Swamped, and then some

It has been pedal-to-the-metal around here on so many projects that I’m having trouble finding time to write. Many of these are just general housekeeping things that need to happen, rather than stuff to do with growing food or growing our soil.

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The boys and I have been busy with partially burying a hard plastic pond liner at the top of the hill to be our new duck pond, to replace the baby pool that is currently filling that role. The final step will be to bore a perfectly round hole in the bottom near one end, that we will be able to plug with a bathtub stopper. When we need to drain the duck-fouled water (which is usually every other day, if not every day), we will be able to pull the plug, and let loose the fertilizer and irrigation on the hillside. A set of microswales to better direct the water is also on the boys’ drawing board.

The tricky part is boring a round hole in the plastic without cracking it or just making a misshapen hole that a bathtub stopper won’t stop. I’ve got a few ideas. Watch this space.

We’ve been uprooting knapweed (aka Russian Thistle) around the yard a lot, and messing with sprinklers (2 in series) and soaker hoses.

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Another imminent problem is that we have some hens that aren’t laying, and others that are pecking and eating eggs. I’ve added some pillows made of feed sacks and newspapers to some nesting boxes out of which they like to scratch all the bedding, in hopes of preventing initial breakage. Several suspects have been identified, but nobody has been outright convicted except for a pair of aging bantams that I caught red-handed, or, really yellow-beaked, side by side, when I opened the nesting box flap the other day.

The oldest batch of White Chanteclers is probably just hitting their first molt. There are a few others who we know to be laying due to having positively matched egg size, color, and shell texture to specific birds. More of the flock is rather a gray area, though. We need to take turns sitting out to watch the laying activity to gather better data. Did this for a day last week with some useful results, but more is needed, when we can tear ourselves away from other projects.

Phoenix hen
Phoenix hen

 

In other poultry news, the puppy unleashed her inaugural murderous ferocity on one of the young Icelandic roosters. We still have about 3 left. At least it wasn’t one of the pullets.

A thunderstorm that I can only really describe as vicious whipped through the valley yesterday while we were out. We had to dodge downed willow and cottonwood branches, not to mention downed power lines, on our drive. A nearby city was hammered with category-1 hurricane-force winds and I think many there are still without power. We came home to one window screen off, the curtain hanging out the window, a few things blown around the yard, and that was about it. The smaller of my two gray cats went missing, and I’m very upset.

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The biggest project consuming our time is getting the office bathroom up and running. We will have quite a few visitors later this month, and the extra plumbing should be ready just in time. We’re still finishing the drains and the foundation. The boys are harvesting a lot of stray concrete chunks from under the house to incorporate in the footings to finish the floor under the shower and toilet. I am slowly recovering from my cracked sternum/ribs, and Mrs. D. is still the unstoppable Wonder Woman. When we started mixing concrete, she said, “I used to help my dad with this all the time when he was building houses.” She taught me a trick or two about finishing the surface presentably. I have to wonder what skills and experience she’ll pull out of her sleeve next.

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Said wondrous woman headed out with the kids to a class a half-hour away this afternoon, and before she was five minutes down the road, ALL of the warning lights on the dashboard came on, and various systems began to die. She called me as she was getting it turned around, and barely got it off the road not far from our house before it died completely. I jumped on one of my kids’ bicycles, only to find the air in the tires were low. Tried another bike. Same problem. The third had barely enough air that I felt the tires might get me to the ailing van, so I took it.

Battery measured less than 8 volts, and the electrical system was suffering accordingly. I assumed the presence of a short that was draining the battery and short-circuiting the whole electrical system. Called some friends. First one who answered got going in our direction to attempt a jump-start. While waiting, I poked around some more, and before long noticed that the belt connecting the crankshaft to the alternator and AC compressor was shredded like a giant spider. Enderman lurking in the left side of the engine compartment.

Our friend arrived after having gone out of his way to get gas for his own van. We verified that the water pump was not affected by the broken belt, and then charged our battery from his van with jumper cables for a while. This enabled us to start the van and drive it home. Another friend gave me a lift to the auto parts store in town. Having a minivan as one’s sole vehicle on a homestead is a poor idea – a truck would solve a lot of problems and is on the to-be-budgeted-for list.

There’s a second belt that it makes sense to replace along with the one that broke, so I picked them both up. Youtube and my Chilton’s guide offer much encouragement that this will be an easy repair project. Will probably have to remove one wheel to access the bolts to loosen the pulleys, but hopefully that will be the extent of tomorrow morning’s drama, before I return to brainstorming interlocking systems and infrastructure in the office bathroom-to-be.

Also, having picked up a used front-loading washer and dryer for a song the other day, to replace our aging machines, we got around to installing them this morning. Cleaned out a lot of dirt under the old ones that predated our arrival here. Cleaned out and tightened up the dryer vent hose. Decided to forego replacing the dryer for now since the new one is gas and we want to hire someone qualified to extend our gas line for it. Front loading washer works great. All parts, and a stud finder (to minimize cussing), are now on hand to construct a lot of much-needed shelves in the laundry room. Another day, soon.

All Hail Breaks Loose

150724-hail-2Yesterday we had what will likely end up being our largest rain event of the year. A sudden onset of torrential rain was soon accompanied by large volumes of pea- and chickpea-sized hail. Our house sits at the bottom of our hill, and I knew that water coming down the hill wouldn’t drain terribly well after it hit our foundation. Yesterday it came down the hill in torrents, through the bare dirt near the house, and accumulated to a depth of several inches, getting up to the bottom of the siding, but not quite to the crawlspace vents.

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I went out in shorts and a boonie hat and semi-frantically moved a dog-dig-barrier out from under a fence at the corner of the house, and then removed more dirt with a shovel to get it draining faster. After the storm abated and gravity did its job, the water along the back of the house had dropped by about an inch, just below the edge of the siding. An inspection under the house revealed a lot of seeping through the concrete, but no puddles, so it seems the ground was ready to absorb quite a bit of moisture – no surprise considering how dry it usually is here.

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The bare area of soil behind our house is on the list for some TLC, and this event just highlighted the need to get on with getting something growing there. It is a frost pocket in winter, and I don’t believe that helps with keeping ground cover alive.

We had obtained four adult Blue Laced Red Wyandotte chickens the night before, and during the storm they weren’t quite sure where to go. They sought shelter under a ponderosa, but still got pathetically soaked. I managed to catch three of them, and Mrs. D. dried them off with a towel. We put a heat lamp in the coop in hopes of keeping them from getting chilled further. All are doing fine today. I was feeling a mite wet and chilly myself by the time I was done reacting to the storm.

150724-hail-4We have been leaving the van out of the garage, since the garage itself is seeing a lot of use. Moving bikes, toys, and various projects out of the way in a hurry while trying to get the van in out of the hail highlighted how much keeping things tidy helps when you have to respond to an emergency.

The tomatoes and beans seem little worse for the wear. Our summer squash leaves look like they were blasted with a shotgun, but the plants will probably make it. The storm did no other noticeable damage.