Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…. September 7, 2018

Well, the bear(s) did not show up this week, but a hawk did–we nearly lost baby Uno!

Labor Day afternoon I was outside with the animals when I heard horrible noises coming from the enclosure where Mama Hen and Uno live! I ran around the feed shed, and as I drew near the pen, I could see Mama Hen at the TOP of the enclosure, shrieking for all she was worth.  Really, I thought she was being eaten alive, but then I saw a hawk fly off and light on a nearby branch.  As I ran closer he flew off, and Mama Hen was back on the ground.

I pieced together what happened.  The hawk saw baby Uno and thought to himself, “Mmmm, winner, winner, chicken dinner.” But if you read the August 24th post, you know Mama Hen ain’t letting no one near her baby!

She was attacking the hawk! Having been a victim of her wrath myself, I can tell you that the hawk was smart to look for dinner elsewhere.

Baby Uno was TERRIFIED! She was cowering in the back of the dog crate.  Mama Hen rushed in and sat in front of her, blocking any intruders.

Mama hen and Uno
Mama Hen and Uno, sticking close together after the attack.

Then I heard racket in the driveway-good grief. I ran around the feed shed again to see ALL of the chickens RUNNING in my direction, chattering wildly.  They passed right by me and piled into the back of the boat shed, out of harm’s way.

I walked slowly in the direction they had come from, one hand on my bear spray, looking on the ground, in the trees, in the air, but did not see anything.  Because they were running for cover, I think the hawk had made a pass over them.  If it had been the bears, they would have scattered like a shotgun blast.

Later that afternoon, we pulled some leftover chicken wire from one of our sheds, and we rolled it out over the open section of the top of the enclosure that was not covered by the tarp.  It was a bit short, so we pulled a small piece of fencing in a 2″x4″ grid from our stack of “remnants” and added it above the door.  Now the top is completely sheltered from predatory birds.

Wire on top 09-07-18
You can see where we rolled out the chicken wire and placed the small panel of 2×4 wire.

While we are on the subject of birds, here’s a video (or two) of the Indian Runner Ducks.  They are called “Indian” because they originated in India, and “runners” because they are upright ducks, so they run around instead of waddling like most ducks.

BTW, they were totally unphased by whatever panicked the chickens.  When I checked on them, they were happily splashing in their pool, oblivious to all of the chicken distress.

We found three yellow jacket nests this week!  The first was in my garden. I had covered some of the ground with black plastic to kill the weeds.  There was a hole in the plastic, and a small thistle had grown through.  John noticed several yellow jackets coming from the hole.  It was evening, so it was cool enough to pull the black plastic back, and sure enough, there was a hole in the ground, which John treated immediately to kill the yellow jackets.

The second was in the ravine behind the shop where we toss branches, bark from firewood, muck from the duck coop, and hay from the goat barn.  John was throwing some limbs away when he noticed that the bears had dug a hole and pulled out several combs from a large yellow jacket nest. They are known to eat the entire nest!

Yellow jackets combs
Combs from the yellow jacket nest in the ground. They hold larvae, not honey.

The third one we found the old fashioned way- I stepped on it!  We were cutting wood on the hill behind the shop, near the ravine.  I stepped on it when I was marking a downed tree so John could cut it into logs. Fortunately, temps were in the 70s, so the yellow jackets were slow on the attack.  I saw a couple of them flying around my face, one stung me on the neck, and I realized what I’d done. I shouted, “Yellow jackets!” and scrambled back up the hill.  I consider it miraculous that I was only stung once.

For years, I have thought that Georgia Tech picked a wimpy mascot when they chose the yellow jacket.  I don’t think that any more!

Fall weather appears to be here to stay. Actually, it appears that serious fall weather is arriving early. Days are in the 60s and 70s, evenings in the 40s and even the 30s.  It’s funny how one acclimates to weather.  All the years that I lived in the South, forty degree temps meant “Brrr!  Bundle up!” Now, it’s jacket weather.

Weather forecast 09-07-18

Since it’s been a relatively quiet week, let me share with you one of our more successful homesteading activities: worm composting, also known as vermiposting.

I actually first learned about this in Atlanta.  I knew a woman who kept a worm composting bin in her laundry room!  Done right, it is odorless.

Here’s what a worm composting setup looks like.  I jokingly think of it as our worm condo.

Full worm bin.
Here’s the full worm bin before I began cleaning it out this spring.

The unit comes with four stackable trays and a base.  The base is sloped, with a spigot at the low end.  The trays have closely spaced rows of holes throughout the bottom.

Worm tray with castings
Worm tray. It’s a good thing that the castings don’t stink–otherwise I couldn’t do this!

You start with the base, one tray, and a lid.  You put plant based food waste and shredded paper in the tray, along with thousands of worms, which you order online from a worm farm.  I am not even kidding.

Worms need fine bits of food, so I chop up fruit and veggies, coffee grounds, and tea leaves for them in my food processor.  You don’t want to overwhelm them with the coffee grounds, but a bit of grounds are useful because it acts as roughage for their intestinal tracts.  Yes, I have learned way more than I ever thought I’d know about worms!

You would not believe how fast a bin of worms can go through a mixing bowl full of ground food and shredded paper.  Like every few days!  You mix paper in with the food to absorb excess moisture.

We feed them the trimmings from all of the fruits and veggies we eat (citrus excepted).  We look for overripe produce at the grocery that has been discounted.  We buy bags of apples, which we share with the worms, ditto carrots.  Fair warning: don’t add too much cabbage or broccoli at once.  It can get to smelling really ripe.

A friend of ours juices and saves the pulp for us.  Recently, a neighbor gave us three baskets of apples.  I am grinding the ones that are bruised and am freezing them to use throughout the winter as worm feed and chicken treats.

You just keep adding food on a regular basis, and the worms faithfully and prodigiously convert it all to poop, known as worm castings.

Eventually, the tray starts becoming full of castings and remains of food and paper.  You simply put a new tray on top of the first one and begin filling it.  The worms migrate up to the new tray through the holes and get on it.

When we feed them, we take a minute to open the spigot, and brown liquid pours out- maybe a cup or so?  This is known a worm tea, and it is golden.  John pours it into gallon jugs and holds it till we need it.

Worm condo base and tray
After cleaning out the worm “condo” we are ready to go again with the base and one tray. The tray has a cover that fits tight in the top. Worms like it dark!

What do we do with all the castings and the worm tea?  It is some of the best organic fertilizer available!  You can dilute the worm tea and water your garden and fruit trees.  John likes to water the ground thoroughly and then pour on undiluted worm tea.

Bucket o' castings
After feeding worms and stacking trays all winter, this is one of two buckets of castings that I collected.

The castings you can mix with water to make more tea.  You can also work it directly into your soil, which is what I did with the garden in the spring. It is not “hot,” and I have read that it is nearly impossible to add too much. We have not had to buy any fertilizer–the worms provide it all.

So, yes, you can say we are worm farmers.

Just in case I have intrigued you, here’s a link to my worm bin and a link for red wrigglers so you can start vermicomposting!


One Reply to “Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…. September 7, 2018”

  1. Never a dull moment! We have squashed any purported desire to move to Montana and do farm-steading. Not going to happen.

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