Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…. August 17, 2018

Welcome to another week at the ranch! I have puzzled over how to share this week and have decided to do it by subjects: weather; bugs, bears and birds; gardening. 


A week or two ago I wrote a comment about being thankful for a “no fire” wildfire season. Well, that has changed. Saturday evening (August 11) there was a dry lightning strike at Glacier National Park. Dry lightning occurs when a rainstorm develops at high altitudes and the rain evaporates before it hits the ground.  The lightning, however, still touches earth, and this is how wildfires start.

Lighting struck in the park across from the Lake McDonald Lodge, producing a small, smoldering fire.  It began in an area called “The Roberts Scar,” the area that was scorched by the large Roberts fire in 2003. This new fire, The Howe Ridge Fire, was a difficult fire to extinguish immediately because there were a lot of dead, unstable trees in the scar, and the terrain is rugged. Tough to get firefighters to the blaze.


The iconic view of Lake McDonald. Hard to believe that this view is in flames. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

While John and I were enjoying kayaking on a windy Sunday afternoon at Foy’s Lake in Kalispell oblivious to the new fire, those same winds hit the park and literally “blew up” the smoldering fire into a major wildfire. In one week it has consumed 4100 acres of park land, burned a number of homes and historic structures, and forced the closure of the Lake McDonald Lodge and surrounding buildings for the remainder of the season. The entire west side of “Going-to-the-Sun road” is closed.

Now the valley is covered in smoke and we have been under air quality alerts for days. Such an alert looks like this (from

Bugs, Bears and Birds:

Earlier this summer, John bought a product called Spartan Mosquito at Murdoch’s, and IT WORKS. We rarely see a mosquito any more.

Wish we could report the same for yellow jackets.  The spraying from Bug Hunters did help a good bit, but they are still an issue.  Between smoke and yellow jackets, it’s hard to get any work done outdoors beyond the necessary animal upkeep.

The bear is out and about.  John had an appointment in town one afternoon, and I stayed home.  He called me while still leaving the property to let me know that he’d seen the bear behind the shop. Would I walk outside and scare him off? Soundly armed with my bear spray and my trusty 9mm pistol, I stomped about, made noise, and looked around, especially behind the shop where John had seen him.  Thankfully, the bear had vanished. It was a creepy experience, let me tell you.

He showed up again Sunday as we were leaving for church. He was in our lower driveway, big as day.  He scurried off before I could get a picture. I had a commitment at church. What to do? We looked at each other, said a prayer for protection of our animals and drove on.  Everyone was present and accounted for when we returned home.

On a fun note, I have been sharing with you through throughout the summer about one of our buff orpington hens who has been determined to become a mama.  We finally waved the white flag of surrender and let her sit on a clutch of eggs when she hid in the goat barn behind a piece of plywood.

Guess who’s hiding behind this board?!

In the winter, we use this wood to cover the large interior window of the goat barn at night, to keep in the heat generated by five goat bodies. In the summer, though, we leave it off, propped against the wall below the window.

The hiding hen.

Monday the 13th we were approaching hatch time; it’s a 21 day gestation.  Usually I make a note on the calendar, but had not done so this time. Since Jaren was helping John that day, I asked the two of them to set up the 10×10 dog kennel that John and I had decided to use as a chicken nursery.

While they did so, I pulled our largest dog crate out of storage, piled a generous layer of hay in the bottom, placed it in a wheel barrow and pushed it up the hill to the goat barn.  My plan was to gently place the mama hen and her eggs in the dog crate and wheel it to the dog kennel/nursery.  When I reached the barn and moved the board, I could hear peeping!

Mama hen with her brand new baby chick!

It was hatch day!  Carefully, I moved thirteen eggs, one fluffy baby chick, and a very indignant mama hen into the dog crate and wheeled it to their new home.  The birth of baby chicks is always so exciting!!

Let me tell you about how John set up the chicken nursery, as it is a testament to homesteader ingenuity, and it is a lesson on why it is good to store potentially useful items.

Almost two years ago, John found a great buy on a 10’x10′ chain link dog kennel, so we bought it, intending to use it for the ducks, but we never did. It became the perfect enclosure, though, for creating a safe area for baby chicks.

I pulled two partial rolls of 3′ tall hardware cloth from the boat shed and the hay shed, and the guys wrapped it around the bottom of the chain link fence to keep predators out and baby chicks in.

Hardware cloth is not actually cloth, it is welded wire. Some of our “cloth” was 1/2 inch squares, and some of it was 1/4 inch squares, but who cares? It works. We had almost enough to completely wrap the enclosure.

Using a draw knife, they scraped the bark off of five slim wood poles. They lashed the poles to the top of the kennel as supports for a tarp, which they tied on next.  This tarp keeps a hawk or an eagle from swooping down for an easy baby chick meal.

Because the back of the kennel is a west exposure, they finished the project by zip tying a second tarp to the back side.  Here’s the finished nursery:

This setup is even better than the chicken tractor that we have used in the past. A separate post is coming about this spunky hen’s determination to become a mama, and I will explain why this arrangement is better than a chicken tractor for baby chicks. You will also learn why only one egg of fourteen hatched.

This baby chick came at the perfect time, because I needed some cheering up.

Saturday the eleventh was my birthday; I turned 54. I am not one to lament that I am growing older.  Life is a journey, and am always curious about what age brings.  In this season of life, I am especially aware of the wisdom that comes with advancing years.

But this birthday hit me hard. I started writing about the day and what I learned from it, and I realized I have enough to say about the subject that it needs to be its own post, so stay tuned.

Gardening had its own set of highs and lows this week.

Highs: The sweet yellow cherry tomatoes are ripening, and they taste like candy! Next year I am growing at least three of these plants. Can’t get enough!

The first of our sweet cherry tomatoes!

The cucumbers are loving the heat. There are bright yellow blossoms everywhere and now some precious baby cukes! If this growth keeps up, I might harvest enough to make relish AND bread and butter pickles.  Trying not to get to too excited, but hope springs eternal in the heart of a gardener.


Turnips we’re the “low” for this week.  According to the information on the seed packet, it was time to harvest.  Hoping to lift my spirits, I dug them up on my birthday and reaped this sad assortment.

Determined to make the best of it, I carefully separated the good greens, setting the rest aside for worm composting. Some of the turnips I put straight into the worm pile, but I did manage to salvage enough to make one pot of lamb stew later this fall.

When I ground up the greens and turnips for the worms, I had a big mixing bowl full.  At least the worms feasted.

Remember what I said about the heart of a gardener?  I think I have just enough time and seeds to plant a fall crop.


This post contains affiliate links.  Proceeds help keep the chickens in scratch and the goats in chow.  We all thank you!

3 Replies to “Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…. August 17, 2018”

  1. Hi, Amber! Did you figure out how to treat the soil and take care of the problem?

    1. Nope. It was waaaaay too complicated.

  2. I love the photo of the chick and hen. The chick is asking “what now, mama?” Our turnips looked exactly like yours during the one and only time we grew them. Research revealed that it was a soil issue. The trifecta of smoke, bears, and yellow jackets is too much. The air in Seattle reached “hazardous” for two days last week.

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