Saturday, May 23, 2009

In which the horse fence looks more like the dock for the local fishing fleet

Everything rots here.

Here in the Swamplands, we take decay for granted but even natives like me were startled a few days ago when a guy in downtown Seattle got stuck in a hole where the cement sidewalk had rotted away.

It makes sense that anything not made of rock or Rubbermaid® will eventually deteriorate in any climate, but around here, the trees get moldy. Therefore, we take extra steps when it comes to preserving stuff that needs to be both sturdy and steadily rained on.

Building the perimeter of the sacrifice area and the anchor points of the fence out of railroad ties made sense to us, because Jim and I both associate the smell of creosote-enhanced posts with the pilings used to anchor docks and very large boats.

We figure, if creosote will preserve posts for several decades while they are half-submerged in Bellingham Bay, it should work out just fine for fence posts on a farm at an elevation of 300 feet above sea level.

Today was railroad-tie planting day. We didn't get them all in the ground, but we did build a significant forest of posts that smell exactly like the docks on a warm day.

Jim used the fence post level to make sure that the posts were actually pointed straight up. His back is feeling better, thank you, and he is being much more careful now. Notice the stylish orange garment.

We reinforced the straight-up-ed-ness with temporary support boards.

Then, dump in redi-crete, straight from the bag. Tamp it down with the rock bar to get the bubbles out of the powder, and to make sure that the mix is evenly distributed around the post.

Next: water. For posts near the house, we used the hose. For posts further away, we filled buckets from the water tank in the back of the truck.

Stir the water into the concrete mix with the rock bar. At this point it looks like lumpy grey cake-mix. Yum.

This is how it looked when we quit for the day.

I felt like I should tie up my boat and go ashore for a cup '0 rum.

When it was time to lay out the posts for tomorrow's planting task, Willy got to drive the truck while Jim and I pulled posts out of the back into position.

Willy was nervous, but I was the one who goofed and dropped a post on my own foot.
Yow. No broken bones, but I'm definitely spending the evening with my dear friend Mr. Ice Pack.

Friday, May 22, 2009

In which hogsfuel is delivered and we start to plan a great party

I gotta say nice stuff about East Valley Sand and Gravel: I called and talked to Lori in the office there at 9:00 this morning; at noon, this gigantic dump truck and trailer backed down the driveway to deliver the hogsfuel I ordered. Wow. Just, wow.

I'm pretty proud of my trailer-backing skills, but there's a reason they let this guy drive the dump truck: he's really an expert.

The driver negotiated a tight turn to get in, and then positioned his trailer exactly where we needed the stuff dumped out. Then he pulled forward and re-positioned the truck so IT would dump out in exactly the right spot.

About half of the load in the truck got jammed in there, so he "bounced" the truck somehow and out it came, right on target. Cool. Just like I used to do with my Tonka truck back in kindergarten, only a lot bigger.

Tomorrow, we'll spread the hogsfuel around the new sacrifice area (details about hogsfuel and the sacrifice area in this earlier post) with the tractor, and then we'll start planting railroad ties. Wheeee!

Speaking of the tractor, we'll use that tomorrow for another important task: picking up the pile of burned junk (old wires, rusty nails, and other horrible things) left by the former owners in what will soon be our new pasture. There's not a lot of places on the property I actually want to bury junk like this, but I did find a location: the holes left behind in the front yard where I removed the plastic ponds!

I've always been mystified by people who live in the Swamplands and spend perfectly good money and time to install plastic ponds. Ponds around here are not pretty and zen after the first year. Usually it only takes a month or two before the thing fills up with scum and weeds and mosquito larvae. Blech. NOT what I call decorative landscaping!

I finally had time today to remove the plastic ponds installed by the former owners...these would be the same people who figured that burning nails and broken pop bottles makes them go away...ahem, no it doesn't! Anyhow, the plastic ponds are out of the ground now, and listed on Craigslist for some other Outlander to purchase. And now there are three big holes in the yard--which can be filled up with junk from that nasty burn pile, then covered with landscaping fabric and big rocks, and then I'll never need to think about that particular corner of the yard again! THAT is decorative landscaping, Swampland-style!

Willy and I took a break from digging out the ponds and spent time pulling wire and blackberry vines out of the garden space behind the blueberries. The wire is left over from grapevines and raspberries that were planted in that area years ago. The grapevines are surviving, barely, after being overwhemed by blackberry vines and scotch broom. The raspberries are mostly gone.

The WIRE is still there, buried under all the weeds, and it seems to have made a bargain with the rabbit gods, because there is such a lot of it!

So here's my plan: we're going to have a party on June 21st for just about anybody who wants to come out and visit the farm. We'll provide hot dogs and marshmellows, and lots of WIRE for all our artistic friends to use to construct artistic things. At the end of the evening, the now-beautiful, artistic wire creations must leave the premises.

Good fun, yes?

Oh, I suppose we'll also let folks pet the chickens, and feed carrots to the horses, and just generally enjoy a day in the rural wilds of the Swampland.

So, who wants to come to the party?

We'll put Jim in charge of the hot dog roasting fire. He just loves using the Dragon!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In which I share a poem that really reminded me of Lytha

Lytha is pretty sure that chickens are bloodthirsty, fiercely-pecking creatures. This has not been my experience with our current flock of Peeps, nor with Prior Hens. I'm pretty sure that Peeps--and Clucks, too--are gentle, dumb, easily-distracted birds who provide delicious food in exchange for table scraps, lawn clippings, and the occasional worm.

However, when I found this poem in The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (edited by Jack Prelutsky--a Swamplander!) I really wanted to share it.

Because I think hens are funny, and also because I'm a poetry geek.

The Hen by Lord Alfred Douglas

The hen is a ferocious fowl,
She pecks you 'til she makes you howl.

And all the time she flaps her wings,
And says the most insulting things.

And when you try to take her eggs,
She bites large pieces from your legs.

The only safe way to get these
Is to creep on your hands and knees.

In the meanwhile a friend must hide,
And jump out on the other side.

And then you snatch the eggs and run,
While she pursues the other one.

The difficulty is, to find
A trusty friend who will not mind.

In which I copy a Civil War general and tell an old joke

With Jim's back still *pinging* a little bit, I decided to do everything EXCEPT plant railroad ties for a few days...which meant donning the heavy-duty armor and going to the lowest, wettest section of the pasture to clear out the blackberries and pound t-posts.

This is the "before" picture. Notice the healthy growth of plants on the left margin, especially blackberry vines. ARGH! MUST KILL THEM!

Now, take a deep breath, and envision Sherman's March to the Sea.

Suck in those rebel yells, you horrible vines, Savannah, here I come!

I brought all the Implements of Destruction with me for this task. In the photo (click to enlarge), from left to right:

Safety glasses
Water bottle
TWO pairs of gloves
Helmet/ear protection/face shield

First step: hack apart as many vines and branches as possible with the brushcutter. I have now officially trashed my very own first set of brushcutter blades. They look like something has been chewing on them! Well, yeah: blackberry vines. Chomp chomp chomp.

Next: scrape and chop the vines, branches and foliage away from the future fenceline. 3 feet of cleared space is "trail master standard," but these are blackberry bushes; I wanted 6 feet of dead ground between those demonic vines and my fence. The McLeod was the perfect tool for this, because I could hack apart vines and scrape them away from the fenceline without having to stand in striking distance. Still, I'm not fooled into complacency: safety glasses ON!

Third step: Burn it.

Stop me if you've heard the joke about the Devil down in hell.

He's got a receiving desk, and he only asks one question of each sinner: "Where are you from?"

No matter what they answer, almost everybody gets tossed into the flames of damnation. However, a few get stacked up off to the side instead.

A new demon, recently transferred from sunnier climes, asks Satan the significance of the stacked-up sinners.

"Ah," says the Devil. "Those folks are from Seattle. They're too wet to burn."

So it is with the plants at the bottom of Sherman's March (perhaps I should call it Sherman's MARSH?) . The 100,000 btu Dragon generates heat up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Theoretically, I should be able to vaporize sizable ponds with one squeeze of the handle on this sucker. Trees should catch fire and instantly transform into gigantic fireworks.

In reality, I point the hot Dragon at the sturdy Swampland grasses and vines and they....steam a bit. Horsetails sparkle, and buttercups sizzle some. Blackberries don't show much change at all. Humph.

At least I'm in no danger of starting a forest fire, but seriously, I'd like to get a LITTLE bit of flame for all that effort.

Apparently the heat will damage plant cells sufficiently to discourage further growth. I only hope that's true.

Luna, outstanding in the field as usual, this time beside the newly-cleared Sherman's March/Marsh. See all that nice clear space by the fence posts? Anybody wanna place bets on how long it takes for all those vines to encroach again? Anyone? Anyone?

In other news: at least one of our baby bunnies has survived to young adulthood. This one was nibbling on landscaping yesterday.

The peeps are growing and are mostly fledged now. They are also starting to make clucking sounds. Such pretty girls! At least, so much prettier than a week ago!

Monday, May 18, 2009

In which we use a Groundhog and a Dragon, and there are lots of Holes

We've been digging Holes in the farm.

Not "holes."
"Holes. "
Perhaps everyone has heard about the folly of planting a $20 tree in a $10 hole.
I am determined to avoid obvious follies, and we knew from previous experience that our ground has a fair number of rocks. Therefore, when our 50 railroad ties were delivered ($20 a piece!) we also rented a gas-powered auger to dig $20 holes.

This is a Groundhog auger. Nifty, isn't it?

Position the bit right above the spot for the hole.

Start the engine. It's a lawnmower engine, very simple design.

The auger drills down, and the human(s) pull it up periodically to clear dirt out of the hole. Jim and Willy did almost the entire field (about 30 holes) on Saturday, and decided to finish the last few holes on Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately, on Sunday afternoon, after a day and a half of Groundhogging, Jim's back went *ping*. Jim has lived an adventurous life up to now, and some of his adventures have caused deterioration of the cartilage in his spine. These days, if he over-exerts his back, the muscles go *ping* and he breaks out in fits of cussing when the bones crunch into each other in a way that just cannot be comfortable.

Therefore, late Sunday afternoon, I got a fast-course in Groundhogging, because we needed to finish the task and return the rented auger.

"Drill down (oooooh, straight down, don't let it wobble into a sideways hole, oops) pull up, drill down, pull up."
The technique isn't difficult after the first few holes, but the machine outweighs me by just enough to make the process challenging. Still, we got all the holes dug!
Next step: planting the railroad ties. That will happen this week, so that the cement around the posts can cure for a few days before we string the fencing!
As soon as the fences are up, the horses can come home. At last!

Updates on other projects:

The hens continue to grow. They're almost fully-fledged now, with just a little bit of that fluff remaining. They spend their days in the FEMA tractor, eating grass and bugs and stuff. At night, they sleep in a penguin-pile in the livestock tank. Soon the Hen Tractor will be finished, and they can stay in that full-time.
I've been using the Dragon. No photos, sorry--it doesn't LOOK like it's doing anything, because the flame is so hot it doesn't show in daylight. It makes a huge roaring sound, though, and wherever I point it, the blackberries start to glow. I hope Lytha is right that I don't need to burn the vines to a crisp to kill them, because they WON'T BURN! They just hiss at me and shrivel a little bit. Humph.
Luna is, as always, Outstanding in the Field.