Tuesday, July 26, 2011

One More Bad Goat Story

    My attempts to repair the goat fencing were obviously inadequate.  While we were at church on Sunday our favorite bad goat broke out again.  This time instead of just dining in our garden he wandered over to the neighbors and sampled their plants as well.  He thoughtfully pruned their rose bush and consumed a significant percentage of some other climbing plant. Fortunately, their vegetable garden was fenced.  Even more fortunately for both us and Black Jack our neighbors are very sweet forgiving people.  Rather than opt for one of the more usual responses to goat predation (I'm thinking of the song "Bill Grogan's Goat") they simply brought Black Jack home and secured him to prevent further unwanted pruning of their flowers.
I apologized profusely the following day and spent most of Monday working on some serious goat fencing.

   I've been meaning to rebuild the goat pasture for some time now.  I had already accumulated the necessary materials and simply needed a few days off to work on it. Black Jack's foray to the neighbors garden simply elevated it in my list of priorities.  When I originally made the goat pasture I used fencing that I had purchased pretty cheaply at a garage sale.  It would have been fine for poultry but it was nowhere near strong enough for goats.  Goats spend a great deal of time testing any perceived weaknesses in their enclosures.  They love to stand on the fence wires with their front hooves and thus quickly trash any fence made with substandard materials. They also have an amazing ability to fit their fat little bodies through holes that appear to be much smaller than the circumference of the goat.  My initial pasture fence was made with various grades of welded wire.  This time I used "field fence" which is much stouter.  It doesn't use all of those welds which are easily broken down when the goats stand on the fencing.

    The goat fence took more time than I anticipated.  In addition to most of Monday I also had to take Tuesday off work to finish the job.  Once again I am so grateful to have an employee so I have that flexibility.  By 7:00 pm on Tuesday the goat fencing was finally completed.  I am very glad that I don't have to do serious manual labor every day. Between driving the posts, stretching the fencing, securing it to the posts, and some leveling with a shovel, I think I got my exercise for the day. I was dragging a bit by the time the job was finished. Black Jack and Buster both had to spend the entire day tied up while I worked on the fence. I'm sure they were also very glad I had finally finished the job.

   I took a break from the goat fence for a few hours on Monday in order to drive to Monroe to visit Beth and James and retrieve my orchard ladder.  They have two cherry trees, one sweet cherry (probably a Bing) and one pie cherry (probably a Montmorency).  They had borrowed the ladder to get their cherries picked.  Beth hadn't picked all of the pie cherries yet because she wasn't comfortable on the upper rungs of the ladder. That gave me the opportunity to pick about a gallon and a half of pie cherries.  I  have to admit that I like the pie cherries better than the sweet cherries. I love cherry pie and they are so wonderful dried into raisens( or is that chersens). I also like the fact that pie cherries are self fertile and don't split if it rains.  I have two pie cherry trees, but they are both still rather small.  They both have cherries on them, but there aren't enough for a pie between the two of them.  The tree pictured below is a Morello type pie cherry (red juice) named Surefire.   I think I'm probably still a few years away from self sufficiency when it comes to pie cherries. 

     While in Monroe I also stopped by Del's, a feed store, in order to get more of the metal connectors used to secure the fencing to the metal posts. They had lots of them but they weren't for sale. Apparently they come free with the purchase of the metal fence posts.  However, a lot of their customers are using the metal fence posts to put up electric fencing for their horses.  That requires a different type of connector.  As a consequence Del's has built up a very large surpluse of metal fence connectors and they gave me all that I needed for free.  They were already my favorite feed store but that lengthened their lead over the competition.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Yet Another Bad Goat Story

     The lesson in Primary today was on the parable of the sheep and the goats.  I've always felt some sympathy for the poor goats assigned to His left and wondered how they got such a bad rap.  Then I remembered two recent incidents in which our goat Black Jack escaped from his pasture and wreaked havoc on various garden plants. During his first escape he decided to try out Chinese food and munched a number of young bamboo shoots. Fortunately some of this years shoots were already too tall and tough for him.  On his most recent escapade he ate all of my cabbage plants.  I have to admit that goats are all about satisfying their appetites and they are extremely uninclined to share or sacrifice to benefit others.  So I guess there is a valid basis for the goats being on the left hand.  On the other hand, I've never noticed a great deal of altruism among sheep either.  I think sheep merely aren't bright enough to come up with the many ingenious ways to get into trouble like a goat can do.

    For the last four years or so I've served as a volunteer chaplain for the Snohomish fire department.  So far I've only been to two real house fires.  Usually my service consists of "waiting with the dead"  When the EMTs are unsuccessful in reviving or saving a patient, the chaplain waits on the the scene with the family until either the Medical Examiner or funeral home come to take the body.  Its a rather melancholy type of service and we try to offer what comfort and sympathy we can.  I had three people die while I had the duty this past week.  Two of them died at the same time so one of the other chaplains handled one of the calls for me.  I find it exceptionally melancholy when the surviving family members have no religious faith. I think that has got to be one of life's most difficult trials, to lose a loved one with the belief that is the end of it right there.

    After my week of chaplain duty was passed I had an opportunity to get in touch with my inner fireman.  Our little cat loves to go outside but is still getting over his recent wounds at the hands of another cat. Yesterday the kitten followed me outside only to run into his nemisis over by the currant bushes.  I heard the yowling and ran over as fast as I could.  I found the big cat (Rachel's Jack Sparrow) doing a very poor job of feigning innocence, but there was no sign of the kitten.  Linda and I both looked for him for about twenty minutes with no success.  Finally I heard  faint meowing but I had difficulty figuring out from where it came. Finally I looked up and located Mr. Buttercup in the top of one of my cherry trees. Lucky for him it was semidwarf so he ran out of tree at about 15 feet rather than 35 feet.  Rescueing a kitten from a tree is such a stereotypical fireman thing but I did manage to do it without first donning my fire department jacket.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Of Slugs, Ducks, and Strawberries

    As a serious vegetable gardener in wet western Washington slugs are the bane of my existance. They are also one of the reasons I like to keep ducks.  We had a rainy day a few days back and I collected about 40 slugs from the immediate vicinity of our strawberry beds.  My primary remedy for slugs is to simply scoop them up with a garden trowel and dump them into the duck pen.  The carnage that followed was not a pretty sight. The ducks wolfed down the slugs with great enthusiasm and left no apparent survivors.   We used to let our ducks spend more time as free range slug hunters but that didn't work out very well.  The ducks did a great job hunting slugs, but something else did a pretty good job hunting the ducks.  After the loss of three or four ducks we now only allow them out for brief supervised slug hunts.

   I've discovered that slugs have a serious melon fetish.  I spread the leftover cantelope, watermelon, honeydew rinds as a sort of protective barrier around the perimeter of the strawberry patch.  This accomplishes two things. First, the slugs often stop for lunch before they get to the berries and fill up on the melon rinds.  Second, they are pretty easy pickings out in the open as opposed to hiding amongst the strawberry leaves.  It makes it much easier for me to gather up a pile of slugs for the duck pen in the mornings.

    In spite of the slugs we've had a pretty good strawberry year.  We've had friends and family pick the patch a time or two, we've had fresh strawberry shortcake on several occasions, we've had fresh strawberries on on breakfast cereal, and we've accumulated a few gallons of frozen strawberries in the freezer.  Spring and the earlier part of summer have been relatively wet this year so we've had more problems with berries going bad but I've rarely had to water them. There is an up side to almost everything, including wet springs.
     I must confess that slug bait is one of my few deviations from organic gardening.  When setting out young tender plants I often use a ring of deadline slug bait to protect the plants until they are big enough to withstand the slugs better. My favorite gardening book is  "Vegetable Gardening West of the Cascades", written by Steve Soloman, the founder of Territorial Seeds.  It was his opinion that the metaldehyde slugs baits were relatively benign in the sense that they don't persist in the soil or break down into noxious substances.  However, it is expensive to continually replenish slug bait throughout a garden.  Thus my primary slug strategy is still removal and death by duck.

   Several years ago I made some home made slug traps from two liter soda bottles and baited them with beer.  The traps were fairly effective, but disgusting to clean up and reuse.  I prefer the ducks. I'm somewhat of an obsessive recycler so I guess I just like the idea that even the slugs aren't wasted. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Short Cake Recipe

   Its that wonderful time of year when we have fresh strawberries from our garden.  I have always been very partial to strawberry shortcake and it is especially good with homegrown strawberries.  However, I've wasn't satisfied with the short cake recipe I had been using (from the back of the Bisquick box) so I've been looking for a better recipe.  I hit the jackpot the other day when I looked in my Fannie Farmer cookbook.  It is a reprint of the Original Boston Cooking-School Cookbook published in 1896. They had not just one, but three short cake recipes.  I tried recipe II from page 83.  The ingredients were 2 cups of flour, 4 teaspoons of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 3/4 cup of milk and 1/3 cup butter.  I only used half of the salt required by the recipe but I was a bit liberal with the sugar and used a heaping tablespoon.  The only difficulty with the Fannie Farmer cookbook is that the recipes don't include precise oven temperatures as it was written in the days of wood burning cook stoves.  The instructions were simply to bake for twelve minutes in a hot oven.

     The shortcakes turned out much lighter than my previous efforts.  I don't know why I didn't think to look in the Fannie Farmer cookbook sooner. It also happens to be the source of my favorite cornbread recipe. Oddly enough, most of the modern cookbooks I checked didn't even have a shortcake recipe. I consider that to be a sign of a serious decline in our culture.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cousin Camp 2011

       Another cousin camp has come and gone.  I think the kids all had a great time, but I know I sure did.  We had seventeen attendees this year, 15 of them our grandchildren and two of them soon to be related by marriage.  The logistics of cousin camp have grown more complex with the growing number of grandkids reaching the magic age of 5.  We couldn't have managed it this year without  a substantial supporting cast.  When we do our next cousin camp (two years from now) we'll have an additional four campers so it won't get any easier. This is probably the last time we'll be able to do it at our house.

      One of the things I enjoy most about cousin camp is the chance to spend a little one on one time with my grandchildren.  It just seems to happen naturally too.  One moment I'm helping someone with a craft project and a short time later I have an eager little assistant helping me cook something in the dutch oven.  It was one magic moment after another.

    The indian theme was a big hit.  Linda made an indian dress for each of the girls and an indian shirt for each boy.  I was supposed to make a pair of moccasins for each child but I only managed to get halfway through by the end of cousin camp.  I think I still owe moccasins to Anthony, Brandon, Rachel, Cassie, Madelynn, Britton, Elise, Lance, and Abby.  We started out with some fun craft projects.  Each of the kids got to decorate a leather name tag with an indian name of their choice. they also got to decorate their own special staff.  Linda had procured a goodly supply of beads, feathers, and various other doodads to fancy up their staffs.  since we had a fair amount of rain on the first day, it was a good thing we had the craft projects to keep them busy.

    The bows and arrows were also pretty popular.  A number of campers spent a lot of quality time at the little archery range we had put together with some straw bales.  We had several bows that were suitable for the older kids and two smaller ones that were just the right size for the smaller kids.  Lance in particular was very taken with the bows and arrows.  He was less enthused about my efforts to teach him the proper way to shoot the bow.  By the end of cousin camp I think I had finally persuaded him to try shooting the bow my way, but he may have just been humoring me.

    One of my contributions to cousin camp was a wigwam we constructed in our little woodlot.  I used a lot of long sticks I had pruned out of my hazel nuts and fruit trees to build the basic structure.  Then we covered the structure with burlap coffee sacks.  I didn't have an abundance of birch trees from which to strip the bark for an authentic covering.  It was only part way finished at the start of cousin camp  but that turned out to be a good thing.  A few of the kids, Madelynn in particular, had a lot of fun helping me finish up the wigwam.  The last night of cousin camp Madelynn, Cassie, Hannah, and Luna got to spend the night in the wigwam. We'll keep the wigwam through the summer as a playhouse.

    The campfires were great.  I do love a good silly campfire song and it was such great fun watching all the little indians dance around the campfire. We had a couple of drums providing the beat.  The girls contributed a lot in the silly song department, thanks in large part to the girl scout camp experience of the Kangs.  My favorite new silly song was about a moose, who liked to drink a lot of juice.  I think the overall favorite was "Ghost chickens in the Sky". We also enjoyed singing about the country sunday school, a blue jay who died of a whooping cough, Bill Grogan's goat, a man who was dressed in a very strange way, "Tie me Kangaroo Down, and numerous other great silly songs.
     The best day overall for me was the Saturday we spent canoeing at Blackman's Lake.  Linda hiked with the kids from our house to Hill Park while I helped ferry canoes to the lake.  After four hours of canoeing, picking water lilies, swimming, and picnicing I marched the tired but happy little campers back home.  We sang silly songs all the way home which minimized the "I'm tired" complaints. Everyone sure went to bed a lot easier on Saturday night than they had the night before.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice

     One thing I have particularly enjoyed about owning the Beez Neez Apiary Supply has been the opportunity to share that experience with my grandchildren. A number of them have been enthusiastic volunteers helping at the store now and then.  Some of them seem to really enjoy helping with customers or working at the cash register while others are very enthused about the bees themselves.  Following our recent cousin camp, my granddaughter Hannah (age seven) spent some time helping me work my beehives, then spent most of the day helping at the bee store. I was amazed at her bravery while I worked the hive.  She worked the smoker for me, smoking the bees down off the topbars of the frames so that it was easier for me to pick up frames without hurting any bees.  She was paying very close attention to that and let me know any time I inadvertantly crushed a bee.

     Later, at the bee store, I had to remove some queen bees from our queen bank.  The queen bank is a small "nuc" beehive with no queen of their own and lots of young bees who take good care of  about 40 or so queen bees confined in cages.  The confinement is necessary to keep the queens from wacking each other.  Hannah stood right by me as I removed the queens form the queen bank then watched closely as I marked one of the queens.  Once the queen was marked, Hannah quickly volunteered to help me put the queen back into her cage.  This involves handling the queen with bare hands and can be a bit tricky.  Some queens go right back into the cages and some seem inclined to do anything but that.  Hannah's queen was a bit contrary so grandpa ended up putting her back into her cage.

   The thing Hannah seemed to enjoy the most at the bee store was our observation hive.  I've had bees in it for over three weeks now and so far they are doing quite well. It is a big attraction for any kids that come into the store.  Hannah spent a lot of time watching the bees in the observation hive asked a lot of good questions about the things she saw. 

     I was really impressed that Hannah stayed at the store until the end of the day. I even gave her a chance to go home and she declined.  Its pretty unusual that a kid that young doesn't get bored and want to go home and play at some point.   I think Hannah will make a pretty good beekeeper some day, but it may be a few years before her dad will allow her to keep a beehive in their backyard.