Author Archives: David

easter-eggs

Eggcellence: Just in Time for Easter!

I’ve got eggs!

A lot has been going on, and I probably should have posted this almost two months ago, when I actually started getting eggs, because I was super pumped then.  Now, it’s kind of normal…  I’ll try to muster up some eggcitement for the purposes of this blog, though.  Or, at least I’ll crack some bad yolks.

icicles

 

It was quite cold outside – well below freezing for days on end, and I decided to give my chickens a little warmth so that they wouldn’t hate me.  As far as I know, they’re much better egguipped to deal with cold temperatures than you or me are (well, unless you’re actually a chicken), because they basically have the egguivalent of a down comforter on all the time.  As they metabolize their food, they generate heat that is trapped in their puffed up feathers.  At least, that’s what a guy on the internet said.  Because he’s on the internet, I can trust him.  But I still added my heat lamp from when they first hatched.

red-light-coop

Put on the red light

Hens don’t lay nearly as many eggs in the winter because the days are short, but I think when I put the heat lamp in there I kind of faked them out.  I can’t really be sure, though, because they were definitely at the age where the should be laying, and since the heat lamp is red, I’m not sure that that did anything as far as eggstending the daylight hours.  I’ll bet they were simply annoyed at the red light keeping them awake at night, but none of them got too eggravated about it.

eggs-n-golf-balls

Anyhow, I occasionally would check the nesting boxes for eggs, just because I wanted to be ready if they did actually start laying.  I’d gotten used to seeing nothing, so I was incredibly surprised to see two eggs sitting there one Sunday afternoon!  It had to be Henrietta and Peepnelopeep, as they were the oldest.  Not that I actually call them that.

Those two eggs were delicious.

frying-eggs

Omelet-you finish, but frying is the best cooking method of all time.

I was getting two eggs on an average day (sometimes just one).  I’d been putting a lot of pine wood shavings in the coop floor and at the bottom of the nesting boxes, but they usually shuffle (or soufflé) that around, which would leave the nesting box with a fairly bare wood floor.  So, one day I came out to one of these.

broken-egg

When she laid the egg, it dropped to the bare wood and cracked.  I just tossed the broken egg (well – actually I crushed it an gave it back to them, because there are tons of nutrients in an egg, and almost all of it is specifically there for a chicken to eat in order to survive for a few days), and filled up the nesting box with wood shavings again.  But, alas, I lost every 5th egg or so to the same situation, so I decided my hens needed an upgrade.

chicken-carpet

We have some eggstra carpet from our earlier renovation, so I just cut some pieces to size and put them at the bottom of the nesting boxes, then covered them with wood shavings.  They still knock most of the wood shaving out pretty quickly, but I haven’t lost any more eggs due to collision since then.

I have seen a few more cracked eggs, though…

frozen-egg

At first, I assume the above egg cracked because she had let it drop farther when laying it.  However, it was probably about 10° outside at the time, and when I picked it up I realized that the thing burst because it froze solid.  Carpet won’t fix that.  I had to bring it inside to let it thaw in order to crush it to give it back to them.

Some time has passed, and now I’m generally getting 3-5 eggs a day!  There for a while I started eating three eggs a day for lunch, because, well, that’s about as cheap (cheep) a meal as I could do right now.  And I was often frying them in some lard that my buddy Walter gave me, so it’s as organic as it could be, too.  Then I started realizing I’d probably burn myself out too quickly, so I only do that a few days a week now.

As you can see from the image at the top of the post, my eggs come “Easter Ready” – so I didn’t have to dye any eggs in order my wife and me to have an Easter Egg Hunt in our yard.  You’ll probably notice that there are some “blemishes” on my eggs, and that’s because I don’t wash them until right before I cook them.  They naturally come out with a protective coating that keeps them fresh for six months or more, and washing them can take that coating off.  (Commercial egg farms tend to wash their eggs in a bleach solution, which can actually seep through the shell.  I think I’d rather have a bit of chicken poop to wash off the shell than bleach inside the egg white)

I also have a variety of sizes!

egg-sizes

It’s kind of hard to see in the picture, but the far left one is quite a bit bigger than the far right one.  The one on the right is from my silkie bantam, and I’m pretty sure that’s as big as her eggs are going to get.

A lot more has happened in the last couple of months (spoiler alert: I have honey!!), but I won’t make this the Neverending Story in a sing post…  I’ll try to update soon!

You Calling Me a Lyer?

I’ve had a fun couple of weekends.  I’ve started a few projects, but because I’m long winded I’ll just stick to one in this post.

We have a wood stove, thus we have tons of ashes.  Tons.  I think I’ve “harvested” around 20 gallons so far – which might not actually be a metric ton, but is a lot to me.  And we’re still making it.

There's plenty more where that came from

There’s plenty more where that came from

Well, geeky off-grider that I am, I’m always trying to figure out what to do with things so that I’m not throwing it away.  Ok, that’s more of the pack rat side of me, but at least if I call it homesteading, then an episode of Hoarders won’t feature my garage.  But as luck would have it, I’d also stumbled upon a recipe a while back, which happens to require one special thing.

You guessed it: wood ash.

If you don’t already know what recipe I’m talking about, it’s for Lye.  If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, Lye is Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH), and it’s used for a number of things.  The most obvious uses are in making soap (like in Fight Club), and for a drain cleaner.  Another magical use is for combining with methanol (wood alcohol) and vegetable oil to make biodiesel.  Boom!  Full circle!

I don’t yet know how to make biodiesel (or methanol, for that matter), but one thing at a time, people.  As my good friend Chris says, “Don’t try to boil the ocean.”  Boiling lye takes long enough.

The ash from my wood stove contains a bunch of charcoal, and as far as I can tell, that doesn’t contribute to the lye-making process.  As such I took a net and filtered out the big chunks (so that I can figure out another project to use them for) to keep just the ash.

You gotta keep 'em separated.

You gotta keep ’em separated.

It’s a very scientific process.  And I’m very precise, as to avoid making a mess.

Ash Aftermath

Ash Aftermath 2015

Basically, the only other ingredient for lye is soft water (distilled or rainwater), because apparently the stuff out of the city pipes doesn’t leach the lye out of the ash as well.  I assume it’s because of the other stuff in the water (chemicals), but I don’t think about it too much.  Except that I recently put a pan of tap water on our wood stove to add moisture back into the air, and a white powdery film was left in the pan after the water had evaporated.  I think my wife threw the pan out because it wouldn’t come clean.  And that’s the water we drink, ladies and gentlemen.

Anyhow, I’ve luckily been gathering rainwater – both intentionally an unintentionally – for such an occasion as this.

The left is an offical rain barrel, the right is a future project that doubles as the cat waterer.

The left is an official rain barrel, the right is a future project that doubles as the cat water dish (the ponds that were previously dumped on our property).

So – the materials have been gathered, and all I need is a lye laboratory.  Which is of course made of buckets and junk.

faucet-drain

I found an unused faucet drain in my garage from the previous owner (it still had plastic wrap on it), and I drilled a hole in the bottom of a bucket and ‘installed’ it.  That way, I could let the lye sit in the bucket and drain it out when I’m ready.  There might have been a better way to do it, but, for me, free is always the best way.

bucket-drain

I added some rocks to the bottom of that bucket, because the wood ash would go in another bucket inside that one, and I didn’t want the other bucket to prevent the drain from opening.  That’s probably unnecessary because of the space that is naturally between the buckets, but like I said earlier – I’m very precise.

I drilled some small holes at the bottom of the ash bucket and added some shirt cloth to the bottom, so that the lye could escape into the drain bucket but the ash would stay.

tough-guy-shirt

Yeah, that’s right.  UK Male Chorus Day 1998.  You have no idea how hardcore I was in high school.  Funny enough, it was exactly 17 years to the day when I actually cut this shirt up and put it in the bottom of the bucket.  I’m pretty sure that makes me very, very old.  But still very hardcore.

lye-lab

The lab was assembled, and I set it on top of three other buckets so that I could use the drain.  I’ll eventually build a permanent stand for it – if it’s worth it.  If I end up only making three batches of lye, then I won’t waste the time…

ash-water

Simply add the water and wait.  Boom.  As I read somewhere, it’s so easy you make it by accident.  I then found a glass container in the garage that I could use to catch the stuff – which can easily burn your skin.

For some reason, Gatorade won't honor the "Sports Bag" deal.  I checked.  (No - I didn't really check)

For some reason, Gatorade won’t honor the “Sports Bag” offer. I checked. (No – I didn’t really check)

After a good washing, I stuck the bottle under the drain, in case there were any leaks.  Hours later (there were luckily no leaks) when I opened the drain, out flushed glorious lye.  Well, I don’t know how glorious, because I don’t have a pH tester, but it was yellow – which is what the internet told me it should be.  You can test it by placing an egg in it, but my bottle was too small for that and I didn’t want to waste an egg.  Another way to test it was to see if it would disintegrate a feather – and I have plenty of those lying around.  Get it?  LYEing around?!?!

Anyhow, it didn’t disintegrate the feather, so I dumped the batch of lye that had already been made back into the top bucket, so it would go through the process again.  After that batch had seeped through, I tested it with a feather again, to no avail.  And then I figured I’d forget about that part, because my plan was to boil it down to a solid anyhow, since I don’t have any immediate plans to use it.

That goes exactly like you might assume it would.  Slowly.

boil-lye

I started it on a Friday evening (a week after I actually made it), and let it go for about 2 hours – only checking on it every 15-30 minutes or so.  I got paranoid about not being outside with it, so I shut the propane off and started again the next day since I’d be outside.

Yum!  Good enough to eat, right?  Well, don't - it'll kill you.

Yum! Good enough to eat, right? Well, don’t – it’ll kill you.

I technically should have kept simmering it down to only a solid, but my propane burner isn’t very precise, and I figured I could always cook it on the stove top (with windows open) if I wanted it to be further condensed.

I have a good amount of bacon grease and general animal fat stored up because my wife insists on letting it cool down before disposing of it – and luckily I’ve never disposed of it.  Maybe I’m rubbing off on her.  With that, I’ll try my hand at some soap making, just so that I can justify to her that my craziness can actually benefit her.  Not that I’m confident that she’ll be excited to rub animal fat on her skin…

animal-fat

day-in-the-life

A Day in the Life of a Hen

Sorry for the silence!  I’ve been busy with Christmas and lots of activities – most of which have been very on grid.  So, I figured I’d just post these notes (along with some pictures for context) that I found scratched inside of my chicken coop:


Day 149

I don’t like our new house.  You can barely even call it that – it’s bwaksicly a couple of boards that don’t do a very good job of stopping the wind.  My boyfriend, Roo, says he’ll keep me warm when it gets cold outside, but he says the same thing to Henrietta.  Heck, he said the same thing to that other chick that magically turned into a pile of feathers last week, and he didn’t seem too concerned for her.  He scratched at the ground near her feathers for a little while, and I thought it was some sort of memorial service for her – but it turns out he was just digging up a stubborn bug.  Kind of makes me wonder if he’d miss me if I turned into a pile of feathers?  Oh well – he says he’ll protect me, and why should I doubt him?

Farmer covered the sky up with something ugly.  I can’t see the big glowing thing that Roo always crows at anymore, but it must still be there because he continues to crow.  All.  The.  Time.  To be honest, he’s kind of annoying, and it seems like he’s trying to flirt to the other hens that showed up last week and took over our old house.  But – I don’t have many other options here…

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 153

Stupid farmer woke us up last night, throwing food at us like animals.  Don’t get me wrong, I really like the food.  But why not give it to us before we’ve perched for the night?  A strange white and gray cat that was in our playground and he ran around after it like an idiot.  It ran under the fence, and he hit it with a broken tree.  The white/gray cat ran off, and then Farmer made lots of noise putting stuff around the edges of the fence.  I don’t know if that will keep the white cat out, but I think it just made him feel useful.  I don’t think he has any purpose besides giving us food, so I’ll try to patient with him.  I didn’t sleep very well after that.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 155

Haven’t seen Farmer in a couple of days.  Roo’s been planning on “breaking out of this prison,” and has been urging Henrietta and me to come along.  I don’t think it’s so bad here, but I guess I’ll follow him.  It’s not so easy, though, since Farmer and those other giants clipped our feathers.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 157

Well, we broke out of our ‘prison’ yesterday.  Roo ended up just circling around our old house the whole time we were out, flirting with the hens and pecking at the other guys.  It was a fairly depressing day, because I already felt like old news.  We perched on top of the old house, and at some point in the night I remember Farmer picking me up and throwing me back in the new house.  I woke up on my old (new) perch, barely remembering how I got there.  

Roo convinced us both to break out again this morning…  It didn’t take Farmer long to find us because we were circling around the old house again.  He ran after all of us for quite a while, until someone put up a magical wall, and we were cornered.  Whatever – it’s not that bad here.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

It's just half of a plastic barrel, but it confuses the heck out of them.

It’s just half of a plastic barrel, but it confuses the heck out of them.


Day 160

Roo is obsessed with getting out of our new house.  Every day we get out, and every day Farmer puts us back in with his magic wall.  The thing over the sky keeps falling into our playground, and Farmer keeps hammering it into the fence posts.  I guess guys just like to do the same thing over and over.  (Assuming Farmer is a male)

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep


Day 165

I guess Roo finally took it too far with ‘breaking out’ every day…  Yesterday, he decided it would be funny to poop on Farmer’s big red machine.  I told him he shouldn’t, and he kept saying “don’t call me a chicken.”  I didn’t know what he meant – of course he’s a chicken.

Anyhow, Farmer has separated us.  He put Henrietta and me back into the old house when it was dark outside, but left Roo in the new house.  We didn’t find out until the next morning, when Roo started his maniacal crowing at the glowing thing in the sky (which I can see again!).  I already miss him – kind of – but there are two guys in the old house that are kind of cute.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

red-truck-poop

Most people only have to deal with normal bird poop.


Day 167

Ugh – I hate it here!  Everybody here is a bully, even though Henrietta and I are older than all of them.  They call us names, peck at us, and chase us around the old playground.  And there’s not a lot of room to get away.  Henrietta and I usually just go inside the house while the others are outside, and then when they come inside we go outside.  It’s a lot easier to eat and drink without beaks constantly poking you.  When we are together, we usually just hide under the feeder.  Even the guys are being jerks.  At least when the other girls are around.  When I’m alone with one of them, they make me feel special.  But I hear them say the same things to all the girls.  And, bwaukbagok…  Roo is just crowing his head off.  Even more than usual.

There’s one little hen with really ugly hair that we’ve been bullying, just to show them that we’re not pushovers.  Yeah – I said hair.  It’s so strange – she doesn’t have many feathers.  She must be from out east.  Weirdo.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

hairy-chicken


Day 172

Roo stopped crowing today…  It was weird.  I heard him all morning, and then Farmer and a bunch of other giants went into the new house where Roo was.  Some of the giants were miniature, but they were definitely still giants.  They had all these shiny things with them and gathered around Roo for a while.  A little later, they walked back to Farmer’s house with what looked like Roo – but he was completely naked so I looked away out of respect.  I should have looked, though, because Roo didn’t crow when the glowing thing fell out of the sky, and now I’m wondering if he’s still there or not.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

williams

Some of my fellow giants. (Lane and Tomi were there, too)


Day 180

I haven’t heard from Roo, and I wonder where he went, but I don’t care much anymore…  I think Henrietta and I are finding our place.  These two guys are super sweet to me (like they are to all of us), and they don’t crow nearly as much.  I guess I do have options after all.

Clucks and Scratches,
Peepnelopeep

roo-dinner

Where Roo went.

You Win Some, You Lose Some. Aaannnd you lose some.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to a sad situation.

But first, let me back up…

As I mentioned in my last blog, my brother brought me six more chickens the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I had a bit of preparation to do.  Because I only found out about it about a week beforehand, I fashioned together a fairly unstable coop for them for an unknown temporary time.  (Full disclosure…  I say I only found out about it a week prior, but we’d been talking about it for months.  I just hadn’t planned.  And you thought I was a prepper.)

Behind my barn, there was a pile of wood and junk under an awning, and the previous owner had built a structure that was sort of an incomplete workbench to support said wood.

woodbench

I should have taken a picture before I cleaned out a huge amount of garbage, because you couldn’t even see the supports at the bottom.  I ended up having to jack some of the supports up, because they’d ripped away from the wall where they’d been nailed.  It’s still not that sturdy, but remember, this is a temporary coop.

Luckily, considering this started as a giant pile of wood, there was some scrap pieces that were perfect for this endeavor.

temporary-coop

There were also some old posts in the pile, and I dug some holes with our post hole digger (included in the purchase of our house!) at the corners of the new temporary run.  Unfortunately, because we’re on a big ol’ slab of rock, I could only get about 8 inches into the dirt before the solid clank of the metal tool hit stone and signaled the end of the road.  If I were smart, I’d probably search around for better ground.  But instead, I filled the dirt around the post as best I could and tied them to trees.  Remember – temporary.  For the permanent coop, I’ll probably need to pour a little concrete.  But don’t worry – I’ve poured a ton of concrete.  Like, a literal ton.

temporary-run

After the awkward tied-up posts, I added chicken wire.  I’m starting to hate chicken wire.  It’s crazy hard to keep straightened, and it’s pokes the crap out of me when I’m handling the ends.  In the future I’ll probably use hardware cloth, which is the worst name in the world for fence material, because it sounds like it’s metallic fabric.  Like it’s the kind of thing I’d use for making pants if I was in a glam rock band.

So, as shabby as it is, the temporary coop and run is up, and just in time!  Only a day or two after it was “completed,” Michael brought the chickens in from Indiana and we transferred the old ones to their new home.  Beforehand, however, we clipped some of their wing feathers so that they wouldn’t be able to get out.

clipped-wings

Michael assured me that it wasn’t painful – it’s more like a haircut.  Chickens can indeed fly, but without the longer feathers on their wings it’s much harder.

My whole family was actually there at the time - but only my nephew was forced inside the chicken coop.

My whole family was actually there at the time – but only my nephew was forced inside the chicken tractor.

Apparently I forgot to get pictures of my new chickens, so here’s another picture of the old ones.

chickens-new-home

They adjusted well to their new home.

I thought.

But that was the last time the four of them were together.  As I said, yesterday morning I woke up to a sad situation…  As I approached the “new” coop, one of the hens was pacing back and forth at a section of the fence.  It had apparently been doing it for a while, because it had worn a path into the dirt.  My first thought was simply, “Yup, I need to cover the run, because even with clipped wings they can get out.”

Then after I put the hen back in the run, I realized I only saw three chickens.  All that was left of the fourth was a few piles of feathers.

feather-trail

I also saw a few turkey vultures roosting in the trees above, so I figured the missing hen’s carcass wasn’t too far away.  I assume something grabbed both of them, but the pacing pullet got away while the other sacrificed herself.  At least, it was that dramatic in my head.

I was sad because something ate my chicken.

Specifically, because something besides me ate my chicken.  I got it plump and juicy for some thieving animal that now knows where I live.

Unfortunately, I had a lunch meeting soon after, so I wasn’t really able to do anything at the moment.  And then the day completely got away from me (because, you know, I have an actual job).  And the next morning I woke up to seeing this out my window.

chickens-in-the-woods

Yup, my three remaining older chickens were just prancing around in the woods.  So, apparently they have no trouble getting out of the fence.  I didn’t really know what to do, because I don’t want to spend much time (or any  money) on my temporary coop, when I’m planning on building the permanent one soon.  I did, however, find a big roll of plastic.

It’s probably not very effective, but I just covered the run with the plastic, hoping that it would obscure vision if death came from above.  If something does swoop down into the plastic, it would be like that scene in the movie “Unbreakable” where Bruce Willis falls into a covered swimming pool.  Except possibly a bald eagle instead of a bald dude.  If something crawled in through the side, they’re still sitting ducks chickens.

How much safer are these chickens? None. None more safe.

How much safer are these chickens? None. None more safe.

I need to figure something else out for the temporary long term…

In other news, I bought a truck!

I says to the guy, "But do you have one in Pepto-Bismol pink?"

I says to the guy, “But do you have one in a Pepto-Bismol shade?”

It’s a bit bigger than I planned on getting, but it was the cheapest diesel that I could find that would actually run.  It’s stick shift, too, so that’s fun!

It ran perfectly fine when I went to test drive it (it’s a little tricky getting into reverse), but when I tried to start it on Monday to get my emissions tested the battery was dead.  Sigh.  I plugged the battery up to a slow charger and left it overnight.

The next morning was a bit colder, and – like me – diesels would rather not wake up when it’s cold and early.  So I had to plug in the heating element for a bit before she fired up.  It wasn’t until I passed a cop (no license plate, a note in the back window stating I was applying for tags) that I realized I’d also forgotten to get insurance on it.  Eek!

Luckily, the cop didn’t pull me over.  Either he could read my note (fairly unlikely), he didn’t feel like writing any tickets that day (also unlikely), or he appreciates the hard working farmer and realized that anybody with a truck like that is hard working farmer.  (Still probably unlikely)  I think he was simply looking down as I passed, by the grace of God.

license-plate

I think this truck will fit in just fine on the Stevenson Family Farm, provided it continues to start.

Also, the tenderloin of the roadkill I butchered was dee-lish!

I know what you food critics are thinking... Yes, it was too much broccoli.

I know what you food critics are thinking… Yes, it was too much broccoli.

Oh, and this happened in my front yard last week…

car-wreck

Second wreck in my front yard this year.  (Don’t worry – the driver was ok)

The Most Redneck Thing I’ve Ever Done (or Roadkill Deer is Perfectly Edible)

Growing up in a small town in Kentucky, I’ve done a lot of redneck-y things in my lifetime.  But I think most people would agree that that today’s actions rank at the top.

I planned on writing about chicken changes: my brother said he’d bring a handful of young chickens to me after some Thanksgiving festivities, so last week I quickly boarded together a phase-two-temporary-coop.  There’s plenty to write about in that, and I have pictures, but that was before today.

Today, while getting things situated for the new chickens, I spooked some deer in my woods.  I was randomly going to see if one of the junk-filled sinkholes on our property held a piece that I was in search of, and about 10 yards in front of me a deer bolts across my path.  It was followed by another one fairly quickly.

As the first ran towards the edge of my property, I glanced down the road to make sure there wasn’t going to be an accident – because we live on a busy road, and accidents are fairly common.  (If I’ve not mentioned it before, I watched a girl’s truck slam into the telephone pole in my front yard while I was working at my kitchen table)

There was, indeed, a car coming.

The first deer runs across the road, and I think to myself, “Surely the driver saw the deer and will slow down.  Everyone knows there’s never only one deer that crosses the road.”

The second deer runs across, still with plenty of distance between it and the car.

Again, the thought crosses my mind, “I’ll bet the car will slow down now, after seeing two.”

The car did not slow down.

As I’m sure you’ve already gathered, there was a third deer.  It didn’t look like the car hit their brakes, so I was bracing myself for the bang! that I heard soon after the deer darted through the tree line that hid that spot of the road from my view.

I ran to the road to see if the driver was ok, but I didn’t see anything.  I ran a little closer to where the deer ran out, and I saw her laying on the side of the road, her tail and head still moving, obviously in pain.  I called my brother, who had left my house a few hours prior, with two questions.

  1. Would a .22 bullet be enough to put her out of her misery?  I was still a good distance away, but I could see enough blood to know that there was no chance this girl was pulling through. I couldn’t just let her lay there suffering for an unknown amount of time.  At first he mentioned that my 9mm would probably be more efficient, because there was the chance that the .22 wouldn’t kill her immediately – but we both agreed that it might not be the best thing to see a guy executing a deer with a pistol on the side of the road.  Especially because I’d already seen 4 police cars drive by in the last 10 minutes, and I don’t have my concealed carry permit yet.  Even though I wouldn’t conceal it, a guy walking on the side of the road with a pistol in his hand (even on his own property) might land me in a situation I’d rather not be in.  I ended up not having to use my gun, because by the time I grabbed my rifle and came back, she was dead.  And question number 2…
  2. Is it safe to eat a deer that has been hit by a car?

Don’t judge.

I’d only been deer hunting once this season, and only a couple times in general before that.  Venison tastes great, and here was this big hunk of fresh meat that otherwise would sit on the side of the road for a few days, bloated and rotting.  I mean – I was doing everyone a favor.  Nobody from the county would have to come pick it up, and the driver could sleep at night knowing that the animal they hit didn’t go to waste.  (Well, the driver would never know, because they didn’t stop – but I’m looking for more people I’m doing a favor for)

So, I think from this situation I learned the following lesson:  If at first you don’t succeed at hunting, wait for the animal to fall down dead on the road by your house.

Anyhow, my brother enthusiastically said yes, roadkill deer is perfectly edible.  Sweet!

So, I dragged the body into the woods a little ways, because again – a guy with a knife inside the belly of a deer right beside the road isn’t a situation that everyone would be completely comfortable with.  I got it into a clearing and texted my buddy Lane to see if he wanted to come help because he’s a new deer hunter as well, and he and his wife hopped in his truck.

deer-start

I donned the hunter orange just in case there was anyone illegally hunting on my property and couldn’t tell that the deer was already dead.

I started before Lane got there, though.  And just like last time with the chicken, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing.  Times 100.  I called my brother again, and put the phone on the ground next to me on speakerphone.  I felt like I was on a tech support call, because I was trying to describe what I could see, and he was trying to explain what I should see, and neither one of us really knew what was going in the deer in front of me.  I think he joked at one point, Have you tried turning it off and on again?

I’m sure the NSA is already tapping my phone (I’ve sent out too many texts about my frustration with the government), so they were probably watching my house before the call was over.  “Wait – which part of the ribs do I stick the knife in?”  “Do I just get a thin layer of skin, or do I cut deeper?”  “Are her lungs supposed to be gray, because there’s this big gray thing on top of her heart.”  And that was before trying to describe cutting around the butt hole.

deer-bald-spot

I call this piece “Bald Spot.” Credit to my lovely wife for capturing the essence of the moment.

I’m pretty sure it took me well over an hour to simply field dress the thing, so Lane got there in plenty of time to help.  We had both been around cleaning and butchering deer before, so we both had the general concept – but that’s much different than actually knowing how to do it.  So we flailed together, with my redneck tech support on the line.

We finally got her hung up in my car port (I’m sure that was my wife’s first choice for location), after first using a rope that sagged so much that her neck was laying on the ground.  I really should get a GoPro, because I just can’t explain how hilarious it probably was to watch us.

deer-hanging

We opted to have a column in our way because, well – we just didn’t think that far ahead.

The next few hours were spent cutting while on the phone with various people, watching YouTube videos, and trying to remember details of the last time we’d seen a deer butchered.  It definitely wasn’t the prettiest butchering job ever seen, but it resulted in a fridge full of meat, so I suppose that’s all we could ask for.

deer-lane

High fives!  Er…  Hooves.

I probably should have taken pictures of the meat after it was cut, but I didn’t.  Just imagine that you walked into a butcher shop, but the normal butcher was out sick, and his son (who wants to be a poet) is filling in.  It will definitely still cook, but looks like somebody tried to murder it.  It’s sitting in the fridge right now, and over the next few days I’ll cut it up a little further to freeze it.  For now, though, leaving it in the fridge for a while will apparently help it not to taste too “gamey.”  Because we’re extremely picky about our roadkill.

Doesn’t Everyone Gather Acorns?

To make up for the lack of off-grid-iness over the last couple of months, I crammed a few random things in over the last week or so.

To start off, I’d been looking into acorn flour lately…  So, one day when I was planning on going outside to do who knows what, I got distracted by all of the wonderful acorns on the ground.  I thought I’d pick up a handful or so, and make that a ritual each time I went outside, but I got a little obsessive.  I filled all my pockets, and then got a bag  and went back to it because I just couldn’t stop.  I mean – there were so many of them!

Around that time, some friends of ours (who left a jacket at our house) stopped by.

Mitch: Hey David!  What are you doing?

David: Oh, you know…  Just picking up acorns.

Mitch: ….Oh yeah…  Yeah, I know all about it…  I just love gathering acorns…

(There was a lot of sarcasm in there, in case you didn’t pick up on it through my typing)

I finally realized that I was a borderline psychopath, so I stopped with a healthy amount.

acorns

Later on that night, I started splitting them.  I’m extremely glad I didn’t spend any more time gathering these nuts, because almost all of them looked like this:

acorn-dirt

It looks like my worm friend there – and all of his worm friends – got to the acorns before I did.  Instead of finding a nut inside, I found dirt and usually the culprit.  I cut every single shell open, and I had less than a handful that were decent.  And a lot of those were questionable.

acorn-nuts

I realized I was probably going to do a ton of work for about a cup of acorn flour, so I decided this might be a project better suited for next year.  When I start hearing them hit my roof as I’m attempting to fall asleep next Autumn, I’ll know it’s time for the harvest.  Then I’ll be a psychopath again.

Later that week, my buddy Andy and I went to visit his friend Todd’s farm.  Andy had been talking to me for a while about it, telling me of all the cool stuff that Todd has going on, and we finally carved out some time to make the trek down.  Andy didn’t know exactly where Todd lived, so we simply followed the map announced on Andy’s phone.

Big mistake.

We left the paved road, and then left the gravel road, to what seemed to be a driveway, or perhaps better called a trail.  Thing is, we drove on this thing for at least two miles.  His little Mazda 3 did not like the gigantic water-filled pot holes whose gaps were bridged by old doors.  Yes – someone had taken interior doors to fill in these holes – but the years of driving over them pretty much just made them random splintered pieces of tire-death.  We also passed a sign that said “Stop – Gun Range in Use.”  The sign was not actually up – it was laying on the ground beside the road.  At that point, Andy really started wondering if we were in the wrong spot.  I said “Hey – we’re surely almost at something – we might as well keep going down this road.”  Because – as we have already determined – I’m a psychopath.

Well, the road abruptly came to a steep hill, and he wasn’t excited to see if his car could make it back up said hill – especially if it wasn’t the right farm.  Luckily, there was a bunch of Amish dudes building a house at the bottom of the hill, so I walked down to inquire.

Nope – not the right farm.  But at least it was the amish, and not a live gun range.

After we got back on the road (backtracking the splintery trail), we got ahold of Todd who updated our destination.  Funny enough, Todd’s house is literally right off the pavement.  No off-roading needed.

The first thing I noticed was that his chickens were just about everywhere.  I asked him if he was afraid of predators, and he said his dogs keep them at bay.  (reason #432 why dogs are better than cats)  The second thing I noticed was there were children just about everywhere as well.  I think they have 11 kids, and there were a few friends in tow.  Yowza!

We helped him start some ferments, and had some awesome fresh-from-the-farm cuisine, and just talked about life, God, and everything in between.  Kind of the way I imagine a conversation with a true farmer should go, rather than the distracted dialogue inserted between glances at a phone screen.

The next day, I was planning on doing a little work outside (cutting logs), and I realized – Hey!  I’m better than a dog, right?  I could keep those mangy predators away while I’m outside beside the chickens!

Thus instituted the inaugural free-ranging Saturday.

free-range

It was hilarious, actually…  The first time in their lives they are given actual freedom, and they pretty much stayed where the chicken tractor had been circling for the last few months.  Specifically, where the ground was down to just dirt and covered with their poop…  Anything familiar, I suppose.

And apparently I’m familiar, too, because anytime I came nearby, they’d all circle around me.  At the time, my wife laughed and cutely said they were following their farmer.  Now I’m wondering if they were simply plotting to take me down.  When I sat down on a stump and sharpened my chainsaw blade, I’ll bet they decided to rethink their plans.

They even followed me to places that contained nothing for them to peck at…

concrete-chickens

I suppose the cats are following me because I’m their farmer, too. Just kidding. Holly won’t let me eat them.

I didn’t get too far into my wood cutting for two reasons:

  1. Turns out I’m not very good at sharpening a chainsaw.  I’ll give it another go, but I’ll probably just take them to my dad so he can refresh my memory on how to do it.  It would still cut, but not as easily as it should.
  2. Someone stopped by to look at the Blazer sitting at the end of my driveway.

That was a pleasant unexpected visit, because I’d just put the Blazer by the road on Thursday evening, and I’d fielded a couple of calls from guys on Friday that said they might stop by Saturday afternoon.  It wasn’t noon yet, but this guy bought it right on the spot.  It makes me excited that I had so much immediate interest, because that means when I put a sign in my front yard that says “Fresh Eggs,” it will be seen.  It also makes me think think I should have priced it higher!  (Only halfway kidding)

With the money from the Blazer, I’m hoping to buy a beat-up diesel truck.  Beat up, because I want something cheap that I don’t worry about getting scratched to pieces driving through my woods.  Diesel, because I want to try my hand at alternative fuels.

Well, sure, I guess diesel is alternative, but I’m talking about making biodiesel from cooking oils.  (If any of my readers have a restaurant and need to get rid of a bunch of used oil, I’d be happy to take it off your hands.  Or – if you don’t have a restaurant, but you fry food for 11+ kids, you probably have plenty of oil.)

Also, at some point earlier in the week I checked on the bees, who have been fairly silent.  I knew they wouldn’t be out and about when it got cold, but I expected to hear them generating heat in their hives.  I got nervous because I couldn’t hear a sound.  Luckily, when it was warmish, I opened them up to find them balled together just like they’re supposed to be.  One hive had bees up in the top super, though none of the comb was drawn out.  The other hive had no bees and no comb drawn in the top super, so I removed it.  I figure they’d prefer to save on their heating bill this winter by not warming a huge empty space.  (For anyone wondering – and I’m sure you all are – there was still a frame or two of undrawn comb in the remaining top box, so they shouldn’t feel claustrophobic)

Also also – apparently my subscribe button wasn’t working there for a bit – so if you tried to subscribe but didn’t get this in your inbox, please try again.  Chalk up another reason why I’m not a fan of wordpress.

chicken-dinner

Farm to Table (and one less alarm clock)

I’ve been talking about it for months, but I finally had a chicken killing party.

The party was lightly attended, though – just me and the roo. It was hard to get the interested individuals rallied on a day when we were all free, so I figured I’d butcher the first one alone.

But I’m glad I did, because it took me almost two hours…

In preparation, I realized a week or so before that I actually needed tools to do the job. I found a kitchen knife (that I thought was sharp), and bought a small propane burner at a yard sale.  This is really just my temporary solution – my true self-sustained off-grid plan is to just use wood, but for the time being this will make it easy.

propane-grill

I tied some simple slip knots and threw the thin rope over a branch, so that tiny tree is now dubbed the Killing Tree.  I took a picture, but it’s not great – you can’t tell the rope from the twigs around it – so you’ll have to use your imagination.  It’s far less menacing than you think.

After I got the pot of water over a propane fire, I grabbed the lucky chicken – the one that has been crowing for three hours around sunrise and three hours around sunset.  Can’t say that it was an emotional moment.

Once you flip them upside down, they’re surprisingly calm.  I’m sure there’s some science behind it, but I just assume it’s because all of the blood rushes to their heads and…  I guess that is relaxing?  If you flipped me upside and started walking towards sharp objects, I’d thrash as much as humanly possible.

Not much, man - just hanging out. What are you up to?

Not much, man – just hanging out. What are you up to?

Unfortunately, the knife I used to “dispatch” my little friend was not nearly as sharp as I thought, so it took me more than one try.

Swipe.  Uh-oh.  Swipe-swipe-swipe.  Aw crap, I’m sorry bud.  Swipe-swipe-swipe-swipe-swipe-swipe.

He was a good sport, though, and didn’t mind at all what I was doing to him.  Come to think of it it, he was the most calm he’s ever been, because for the last couple of months he was either squawking at me or maintaining his spot in the pecking order by bullying the other chickens.

After a brief wing-flap near the end of his experience, I removed the head (I threw it in the woods and the cats soon thought I’d thrown a treat specifically for them) and dunked the body into the not-quite-hot-enough water in the not-quite-tall-enough pot.  I didn’t have a thermometer to know what the actual temperature was, so I was just hoping it was around the optimal 145-150° range.  I knew I didn’t want it to be boiling, but also didn’t want to stick my fingers in to see if it was scalding.

As I tried to dunk the body while holding the legs, pretty much the entire lower half was still dry.  I straightened up the legs and tried to force it under water, overflowing probably a gallon of water, with some luck.  I bobbed him like a bag of tea for about ten seconds.  What is supposed to happen, when you dunk a chicken in the hot water, is that the feathers practically fall off.  You pretty much just pet the feathers off.  What happened for me, though, was a lot of tugging and ripping.

At the time, I assumed that was going to be the longest part for me, because it was incredibly tedious to rip a handful of feathers out and then try to pluck out the individual quills that were only sticking out by about an inch after the rest of the attached feather came off in my hands.  I’d dip it in the water again, hoping the next go-round would be easier.  It never was.

I also had to flip it over and try to hold it’s neck to dunk the legs, which was awkward.  And in looking back, I think the “hot” water did so little that I probably would’ve been better off not to have worried about it at all.  Oh well.  As the great Canadian poet, Alanis Morissette, said, “You live, you learn.”

After that, I realized I had no idea what I was doing.  So I did what any homesteader would do – I pulled out my phone and searched on YouTube.  Play a video for 10 seconds, press pause, then try to make the same cut on the carcass.  Second guess cut, because that didn’t look like the same thing that happened for the guy  on the phone.  Rewind the video, watch the same 10 seconds again, realize what I did wrong, but also realize it was too late to fix it.

My wife came out to take some pictures at this point, because it finally "looked like a chicken" to her.

My wife came out to take some pictures at this point, because it finally “looked like a chicken” to her.

I committed the cardinal sin…  I accidentally cut open the intestine while trying to pull the innards out, so after attempting to empty them out on the ground, the rest of the time was spent trying to avoid getting the contents in contact with anything that I was planning on eating.  Due to having to watch YouTube ever 60 seconds, and avoiding getting poop everywhere, I was incredibly slow to say the least.

After a while, though, I was successful.  The guts were out, the poop was gone, and my wife said it would be ok if I finished in the kitchen (because I don’t yet have a surface outside to butcher them on).  At that point, it was much easier.

As I cut each piece – still watching YouTube videos – I decided to remove the skin completely, because there were still tiny quills throughout, and also tiny hairs all over it.  Most people I’ve seen use a small torch to burn the hairs off, but that won’t help with the quills!

chicken-meat

I should have taken a better picture of the meat right after I butchered it, but I forgot until after I’d already let the chicken soak in salt water for a day.  As such, it’s not arranged well whatsoever…  I think that’s part of the back on top (which technically shouldn’t even be a ‘cut’), and it’s pretty much just a meat pile.

That next day, I decided I needed to know how my chicken farming was really going.  I mean – I’d raised this thing from an egg, so I was going to be devastated if it didn’t taste at least, well, edible.  I pulled the legs out of the meat pile, and lightly fried them and warmed up some leftovers as sides – fried apples from my dad’s trees, and couscous with zucchini also from my dad’s garden (the zucchini – not the couscous).

fried-chicken

The finished product is at the top of this post

The first couple of bites were amazing.  It tasted like chicken!

The third or fourth bites on each leg, though, let me know that I didn’t cook them long enough…  It was just a bit too juicy and pink near the bone, so I had to throw them in the microwave to feel safe enough to eat the rest.  Perhaps I ruined it by doing so, but it still tasted great!

A few days later, my wife cooked the rest of him for some enchiladas that we shared with some friends, though unfortunately we had to add a store-bought breast to have enough meat.  If I hadn’t eaten the legs, we probably would’ve had enough for the recipe – but I wouldn’t change it!

The other chickens have not crowed since.

This all actually happened a couple of weeks ago, and not much else has happened over the last couple of months or so that has pertained to getting off the grid… I went hunting once and even though I saw three deer I didn’t take a shot (though I now wish I had), went “deepish” sea fishing with my brothers in law (we were just off the coast – no keepers), and talked about homesteading a lot – but most of my time was spent working. (I’ve got a new gig – more on that later!)

rooster1

Wake Up! Wake Up! (A Rooster Comes of Age)

One of our roosters has discovered the sun.

For most of my life, I’ve been given the gift of sleeping through just about anything.  When growing up, I would often hear stories about crazy things that happened in the night (lightning striking trees within 10 feet of our house, loud wild animals that sound like women screaming, etc) that I slept right on through.

Except for twice when I tried to convince my parents that I chased after a squirrel in our house with a pot from the kitchen cabinet at two o’clock in the morning.  They both told me I must have been sleep walking (in their defense, I sleep walk and sleep talk more than the average person).  They found out that they were mistaken when a flying squirrel ran across my dad’s chest while he was watching TV late one night.  He caught it.  I named it Petey and took it to college with me.  We fed it a diet of salted peanuts. It soon became lethargic, so we eventually set it free after it bit a few folks.

But I digress.

I don’t sleep as deeply as I used to, now waking up constantly through the night – afraid that the walls are caving in (a fun recurring dream during renovation), or that the room is full of bugs that are trying to kill me.  But I often hang out in the state between dream and reality.

Recently, my wife asked me “did you hear the chickens this morning?,” to which I said “no.”  Then I realized that I had stressful dreams of a really strange sounding dog that was right outside our bedroom window.  Apparently, every morning when the sun is now peaking over the Tennessee trees, at least one of our four roosters is so excited about it that he wants everyone in a half-mile radius to see it too.

Wait – four roosters?

Yes.  Out of the five eggs that hatched, I’m pretty dang sure that four of them are roosters.  I’m not positive – because they don’t give the normal tell-tale signs of gender – but my big plan to gather eggs and survive off omelets and huevos rancheros seems to be slipping away.

roosters2

The other three roosters, in addition to the one at the top of the post

The sad thing about a bunch of roosters and one hen is that I’m basically raising them as pets.  Sure – tasty pets – but until they end up in the frying pan, all they do is eat my food and offer their services as off-grid alarm clocks.  (Have I mentioned that I don’t like waking up early?)

The whole reason I love the idea of chickens so much is that they are so productive.  A hen lays around an egg a day – and once she stops doing that, she’ll grace our plates with a final provisionary sacrifice.

The lonely hen

The lonely hen, hiding from her suitors

Roosters have a different job, though.  (Mark Turner told that me I’m the perfect person to talk about the birds and the bees, so…)  When you need more baby chicks, a stud just needs one short romantic jaunt with a hen to fertilize her eggs for two weeks or so.  Meaning – every egg she lays after that union can be incubated to lay another chick for 14 days (or longer).  You can’t have your egg and eat it too.  So, if I only have one hen, and I’m needing eggs to raise more chicks, the carton in my fridge remains empty.  Of course, that’s when she starts laying, which is probably still a month away.

Another problem is that roosters are good at their job.  I read on a blog recently that if you have multiple roosters, it’s good to have about 10 hens per rooster, so that they don’t get too competitive.  So, something tells me that a 4 to 1 ratio will spawn the greatest cockfight in history.

And on top of that, it’s very likely that they’ll kill the lone hen, or at least injure her.

I’m hoping I’m wrong, though…  The two brown ones are a little questionable.  I’d love to be wrong.

But if I’m right, I’m planning on eating one of them soon.  They’re nearing 12 weeks, so they should be in prime condition for frying.  I’ve got a few friends who want to be there when I ‘dispatch’ and clean the first one, so maybe we’ll just make a strange party of it.  (Let me know in the comments if you want to be on the guest list)

My brother also said he’d swap out the rooster that might be a full-fledged Delaware for one of his hens, since all of his Delaware roosters died.  We’ve already talked of me getting more chickens from him, but I need to finish the long-term coop and run before I take them on.  And that hasn’t been moving forward as fast as I planned.  For some reason, the trees that I chopped down haven’t cut themselves into neat stacks of firewood.

In other news, I also found out last week that my well is working very… well…  (smirk)

I decided to start poking around at the components, plugging some stuff in, and flipping breakers that had not yet been flipped.  Within 5 seconds of flipping one breaker and hearing a click, I heard an explosion in my back yard, and all the power to my house was out.  When the power guy came out to look at it, he said that the power for a number of houses around me was also out.  I tried to act as innocent as possible and simply told him I was trying to figure out what the breakers went to, and didn’t know if that was related.  But – luckily, it was not my fault.  A squirrel committed suicide on the transformer at the exact same moment as I flipped the breaker.  (I just hope it wasn’t Petey.)  After the power was back on, I flipped the breakers again, and water gushed out within 10 seconds.  I’ve still got a lot of work to do to make it usable, but I’m extremely excited about that.

Oh – and on another note.  If you are the guy who has decided that my property is a good alternative to the dump…  Stop.  The actual dump (or “convenience station,” as it’s called) is literally 3 miles away.  And it’s free.  So, I’m looking at it as some sort of challenge – because I figure it took you longer to find my property than it would have to simply google “where to dump trash.”

Photo Sep 12, 1 24 49 PM

Sheesh.

shotgun

Meat on the table? 7 reasons I suck at hunting

I’ll have to make a confession here.  When I played Duck Hunt on the Nintendo as a child, I would be 1 inch from the screen.  And I still wasn’t a great shot.

And while I’m being honest, I also shot the dog when he laughed at me.  (Just to clarify for any non-80’s kids: the dog in the game, not the actual family dog.)

Both of my brothers hunted when I was growing up, but I never really got into it.  Every Christmas, they would ask for a camo shirt or some sort of bottle of deer urine – but I would ask for a book or video game or some other inside oriented thing.  Any surprise I’m a computer programmer now?

But, I saw this in my front yard this morning:

deer-front-yard

Three deer, in case you can’t see… I took the picture through my window.

And I saw this in my back yard while we were renovating:

turkey-backyard

These days, I definitely see the benefit of hunting, and I want to hunt – but there are some things about myself that I’m going to have to get over.

1. I Hate Waking Up Early

The last few years I’ve been self employed, which means instead of waking up to an alarm I generally work from when my wife goes to sleep until I can’t keep my eyes open.  There have been a few times that I went to bed after my my wife woke up to get ready for work.  So it’s safe to say I’m a night owl.

Hunting, on the other hand, is early.  Early early.

I went dove hunting with my brothers-in-law this past weekend, and Ben said we could sleep in until 7am because it was “vacation.”  Generally, in hunting, if you get to your spot after the sun is slightly up, you’ve lost your chance.  Actually – there seems to be a trend among men that in order to prove your personal commitment and general manliness, you get up earlier than everyone else.  6am bible studies…  5am mastermind groups…  3am golf tee time…  (Ok – maybe last one hasn’t happened yet, but just wait.)

I get it, for the most part.  The reason most people do those things that early is because they have to get to work by 8 or so, and they have full evenings.  I’m very blessed that I’m “in the office” whenever my laptop is on.  But I’ll always opt for the later slots – the men’s groups and coffee appointments that are in the evening.

But still no decaf – I’ve got work later.

2. I Don’t Like Being Cold

The further south you go, the warmer it is – so moving from Kentucky to Tennessee did give me slightly warmer winters and summers.  My perfect temperature is upper 70’s inside or mid 80’s with a good breeze.  I prefer ‘extreme’ hot to ‘extreme’ cold hands down.  But don’t go crazy…  If I had to choose between 140°F and 40°F – even though 40°F is “colder,” it’s the obvious choice.

But, TN is not immune to ridiculously cold temps, especially the last few years.  Early this year, my band decided to schedule our outdoor photo shoot on what turned out to be the coldest weekend of the year, in the teens.  Or – if it wasn’t actually the coldest, it was the coldest that I was outside all year.  Oh – and we took pictures by a lake.  All day.  I shivered uncontrollably, and when I was given the “action” signal from the photographer, I put my best acting abilities to use.  “I’m not cold,” I tried to tell myself.  “It’s blazing hot out here.”

But I was cold.  And it was not blazing hot out there.

So, a number of the photos had to be thrown out simply because I looked like I was in horrible pain – and I was.  (To be fair, though, mine were not the only grimaces that caused us to toss some of the shots)  I’m pretty sure the “keeper” shots we have now have been photoshopped so that I don’t have extremely pale skin with an extremely red nose.  I’m not going to ask Johan though, because then I can act like he didn’t.  But you and I know he did.

Anyhow, most of the “worthwhile” hunting seasons are scheduled during the freezing cold. I’m planning on going bow hunting this year, and the season starts at the end of September – so I’m hoping the temp won’t drop too much by then.  (Though the immediate drop in temp over the last few days squashes my hope a bit.)

I suppose this year I’ll be the one asking for warm camo for Christmas.

3. I’m A Very LOUD Person

Holly often whispers “shhhhh” to me when I think I’m talking in a normal tone of voice – especially when we’re getting ready for bed.  She’ll follow it up with a soft, “You don’t have to yell” – and again, I think I’m simply being audible.  I always say it’s because I’m a Stevenson.  (Hey, Stevensons – admit it.  We’re loud.)  But it also could be because I’ve been in a rock band for almost 8 years, was in another one in college, and have been playing loud music for a really long time.

When you’re lying in wait for your prey to approach, any noise you make lets them know that you’re there and that they probably don’t want to be.  I suppose I won’t be making as much noise when I’m hunting by my lonesome (I don’t think I’m loud when I talk to myself), but so far I’ve only gone hunting with other people.  And I have the uncontrollable urge to socialize with them.

4. I’m Not Good at Sitting Still

I can lay still – that’s easy; I enjoy sleeping.  But sit me down with nothing to do and you’ll get the least amount of focus possible from me.  Hyperactivity was my best friend as a kid.

I can focus hardcore.  While I’m programming, it’s easy for me to get into the zone and lose track of time because I’m coding up a storm.  But when I don’t have an all consuming focus, I’m as distracted as a cat chasing three laser pointers.

With nothing to do, my mind wanders.  I think that can be a good thing – because of that, I’m a songwriter, and I recently finished writing my first novel (more on that later).  Letting my mind wander allows me to create other worlds in my head, and I try to put that down on paper when possible.

But when you’re hunting, you have to sit still and be focused – because otherwise, all of your preparation and still-sitting is for nothing when you either scare something off, or something passes right in front of you and you’re unaware.

5. I’m Still Not Fond of Killing Things

The first dove I killed, I prayed over it, thanking God for creating animals for us to eat, because I needed to remind myself that it was a good thing.  The first chicken I killed, I had to put my head between my knees because I was getting incredibly nauseous.  We, in the “civilized” world, are so completely disconnected from our food source that we generally don’t think about the death of animals anytime we bite into a juicy steak or a glorious piece of bacon.

I’m trying to get better about that, eating less processed food, and paying attention where everything actually comes from.  (I started writing a separate blog post about that – maybe I’ll finish it one day.)  I’m getting better in terms of killing and cleaning animals…  I’ve slaughtered a handful of chickens since my first one, each getting easier.  After hunting this weekend (I shot at a bunch, hitting nothing), a friend of my bro-in-law killed a squirrel, and three of us huddled around it and a youtube video, figuring out the best way to clean it.

But…  Blood can still make me faint.

6. My Eyesight is Getting Worse

I have a computer programmer’s eyes.  I code in the dark, with an dark color scheme.

coding

If you turn on the light in whatever room I’m in, I will invariably hiss like Dracula seeing the sun.  When going outside, I have to wear sunglasses even when it’s overcast, else I’ll end up with a headache in no time from all of my squinting.  I don’t think that sunglasses will help me see deer/birds better.

I also have floaters in my eyes, which oddly look a lot like birds when I look up in the sky.

And lastly, I had a doctor diagnose me with Convergence Insufficiency, which means that when I’m tired, I have a hard time focusing my eyes on something.  When people talked about “double vision,” I never thought that they were describing what I saw.  And, unlike Foreigner, it never gets the best of me.

7. I’m Extremely Cheap

Extremely.  Cheap.

Just ask my wife.  One of our most memorable fights early in marriage was caused by her finding a deal on some shirts.  For me.  She got three for the same amount that we agreed that she’d spend to get me one.  She thought I’d be excited, but instead I was mad because she could have still only bought the one, and saved 2/3 the money.

I’ve loosened up a bit since then.  And it helps that we’re both making better money than a part-time hotel room service attendant (me) and an ice cream scooper (her).

But hunting is not cheap.  It’s expensive.  Guns cost, like, a lot of money.  And ammo prices have been rising almost as fast as gas.  It pays for itself – as long as you kill some big game – but the initial cost could easily finance my bees, chickens, and whatever’s next for a number of years.

But, as a man, I like guns.  So I’ll take the hit and buy some guns.  And luckily, I got a crossbow for Christmas last year.  And I’ve been practicing.  So, watch out, trees right beside my future target.

crossbow

Bonus! I Can’t Tell Birds Apart

This  is a bonus, because it only pertains to bird hunting, which won’t make up the majority of my hunting experiences.  Whenever birds flew overhead this weekend, I pretty much always looked at someone else to see if they were raising their gun first – because I had no idea what kind they were, and if they were in season.  At the end of the day, I still didn’t know which ones were doves for sure, but I at least knew which ones I’d be thrown in jail for shooting.

I’ll let you live this time, bald eagle.

And, in general, I simply have no idea what I’m doing.

Kill the Invaders! …or… How I’m Protecting My Bees From Small Hive Beetles

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed something every time I’ve opened my hives.

These jerks:

At first it wasn’t a big deal – I’d only see one or two, and they’d be running from a swarm of attackers who were unhappy with sharing the same living quarters. But… Lately…

Photo Aug 11, 10 13 00 AM

Yeah. They’re everywhere. In almost every corner of every super, there’s a mound of them. Interestingly, they’re gathered together because the bees are shoo-ing them into the corners, putting them in time out. I watch them do it – if the beetle isn’t running, the bees curl around it as if they’re planning on both eating it and stinging it at the same time. I don’t think they do either, but it’s fascinating.

One of the first Nashville Area Beekeepers Association meetings I attended was about pests, and for some reason I felt like that was something I wouldn’t have to worry about until a couple of years down the road… Fewer bees, fewer pests, right?

Apparently, the stronger a hive is, the better a colony will be prepared to keep the small hive beetles at bay – and if a colony is weak, the beetles reign supreme. They damage the wax, honey and pollen, and – if there are enough of them – can cause the colony to abandon the hive. So – more bees, fewer pests, then?

Well – not really. As my bee numbers grew, so did the number of these little punks. It’s just that as the hive grew stronger, they were able to coral them better. Almost every time I peeked into the hives, I saw this:

Photo Aug 11, 10 10 40 AM

At the bottom of my hives I have screened bottom boards, which basically means that the structure itself is open, with only a screen covering the bottom.  (“Screened Bottom Board” is a great name, then, eh?)  I’ve had corrugated plastic slipped in since the beginning to basically seal it shut, because I’ve been told that the bees like to draw out comb in the dark. They’re done drawing out comb in the first super (otherwise known as a brood chamber), and it’s been pretty hot, so I could probably leave it open. (I literally just realized that as I was typing this)

However, besides ventilation, the screened bottom board is there so that the bees can push anything they don’t want in the hive out of the hive, without dragging it to the entrance. There’s plenty of trash that they’ll have to drag to the entrance, but hive beetles are small enough (and numerous enough) that it’s convenient to drive them to the bottom of the hive and let them drop through the screen.

Until recently, I’d see just about the same amount of small hive beetles on the plastic and I’d kill as many as I could before they flew away. But the problem is that if they’re just sitting on the plastic, just an inch away from the screen, there’s nothing stopping them from crawling back up into the hive after they catch their breath. So – even though I was seeing around the same number when I pulled the plastic out, the truth is that there were most likely a bunch that came and went when I wasn’t looking.

So – I bought some lunch trays online (had to get them online to get the right size), and they arrived a few days ago. Why? By replacing the plastic with the lunch trays, I can pour in a little cooking oil into the tray, so that when the beetles fall in, they get stuck and die. (I didn’t come up with this idea)

I suited up, including my new ankle guards, protecting me from the curious bee:

ankle-bracelet

Be honest… Do these make my feet look fat?

All I could find in the kitchen was olive oil – which I know is much more expensive than most cooking oils, but… I used it anyway, with a very thing layer.  Don’t tell my wife.  Success!

Photo Aug 21, 4 22 14 PM

In about 24 hours, more than the usual amount of small hive beetles were stuck in the oil! There were also a bunch crawling around on it, telling me that my thin layer wasn’t going to cut it. Luckily, I ran to Kroger while I was running errands earlier that day and brought back a big jug of canola oil and filled them both up after dumping the first batch out.

So… Another 24 hours later…

Photo-Aug-22,-2-03-50-PM

 

Booyah!  With more oil, I have less beetles!

Wait – that doesn’t sound like a win, does it?

It does to me.  Because I got so many the first day with a thin layer of oil, and then far less the next day, that means the numbers of the beetles had already drastically lowered.  As I said before, every time I pulled the bottom board plastic out, I had a consistent number of beetles – which says to me that the bees were dumping a consistent number out through the screen at regular intervals.  Before, if I shooed them off the plastic and came back the next day, I’d see the same number.  Because the little buggers now drop into the oil, they couldn’t get away – so seeing less hopefully means less overall.

I was away on vacation for a week, and I checked them again yesterday.  (If my present/past/future tense gets a little crazy in this blog, it’s because I started it before I left, and am finishing it now that I’m back)

Photo Sep 01, 10 03 34 AM

I did not dump out the previous bath of beetle-juice (I had to fit that in somewhere), so everything above includes the old amount.  There isn’t that many – which makes me very excited!

You can also see a whole lot of pollen that fell through the screen, which means that they’ve been busy little bees during the week, too.  There were also some moths and moth larvae in there, so the trap is doing double duty.

Regrettably, there are also a handful of bees in the bath.  However, I’ll bestow honor on them, and say that they gave their lives in the line of duty, corralling the invaders to their death.  Truthfully, they can’t fit through the screen, so they probably didn’t follow them into the oil…  It’s more likely that they were on the underside of the screen when I slid it in place – but I think I’ll tell the other bees that they’re martyrs, so that they don’t come at me angrily next time I pop my head in.

I always hate losing bees – but since a good colony has more than 50,000, and the bees only live for about 6 weeks during the summer, it’s happening all the time.  Still…  I’d prefer not to be the reason that they go gently into that good night.

honey-super

On another note, I added a honey super, because they’ve drawn out all of their existing comb!  I still won’t get any honey this year, because they need to be set for winter, but they’re on a good path to hopefully be self-sustained.  (Instead of me feeding them sugar water to get them through)  I’m hoping there will still be enough in bloom for them to fill that super up – and I actually planted a few perennial flowers around the hives, so that next year (or possibly this year), they’ll have some pollen close by.