Friday, March 30, 2007

Architectural Fashion

This is our front door. It has an attractive umbrella and a couple of beguiling 2x4s adorning it.

We had a pair of flycatchers who, after extensive research and shopping, decided that our front door was THE prime piece of real estate they'd been looking for. Never mind that the molding offers about half an inch of "ledge" upon which to build their home. Never mind the huge dogs that bound playfully about on the front porch making all kinds of racket. Never mind the amount of foot traffic that would be going on beneath their young progeny (including lots of vibration from door openings and closings). THIS was the place. They HAD to have it.

This is the porch immediately in front of my front door. See all the nesting efforts we destroyed, trying to discourage the flycatchers? They didn't get the message, even after two days. So, we propped the umbrella up with a couple of 2x4s we had lying about. They fussed at us from the wood pile for an entire day. I think they've gone to re-examine the real estate market now. I hope they find a location that suits.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Rabbit Losses

We have been exceedingly busy at Palazzo Rospo. There is too much to tell. I'll hit the highlights and try to post more regularly so I don't get overwhelmed and think "There's no way I can remember/tell it all, so why even bother?" Most of the activity has been with the rabbits, so I'll tell about them.

We had an owl or owls take *all* of our baby rabbits over one or two nights around March 8th. That was probably about 15 kits, as we had two litters (10 kits) running around the colony plus another litter due to make an appearance above ground but I never saw them. The older kits were just a couple of weeks from butchering age, which really ticks me off because we had the expense of feeding them and the effort of caring for them and then an owl family had a major feast thanks to the sweat of our brow.

This is the time of year that owls have their babies, apparently, and so there are lots of hungry mouths to feed. We have LOTS of owls around here. We've seen a huge white one in the daytime - a white diurnal owl suggests asnowy owl but we're much too far south, so maybe a confused barn owl (barn owls are supposed to be nocturnal). We have heard barred owls, hoot owls, and screech owls, and heard/seen others that we can't identify. We hear 3 or 4 of each type at a time. We can hear them calling from different places up and down the valley so we know it's multiple owls.

Fortunately, about a week before the great kit loss of '07, one of the does was collecting straw and taking it into the main burrow beneath a dog-crate half. This usually means kits are going to be born in a day or two. Those kits would be 3.5 weeks old now, and I'm anxiously watching the colony for their appearance.

I put up bird netting where I could, but there are trees in the colony and shrubby things so I couldn't net everywhere. I'm hoping that what I could manage was good enough. The netting was knocked down the second night after I put it in, and it was torn in a couple of places. Since then it hasn't been messed with. I'm hoping that the owls will be deterred and that they haven't found easy access where the trees are. It makes me nervous that I haven't seen those kits yet.

We also had a doe get caked mammary glands - that's where the glands clog up and the milk "backs up" and she gets lumps around her nipples. Some of her lumps have ruptured and scabbed over. She is obviously in distress as she barely hops around and when she does her gait is awkward. The buck was mounting her non-stop and she was trying to get away and whimpering. Now the buck is in solitary confinement in a dog crate on the front porch, and the doe just completed three days of subcutaneous injections of 1/4 cc penicillin. I held her and my husband gave the injections. I luuuuuv him!


Friday, March 02, 2007

Book Review - The Vegetable Gardener's Bible

This is my all time favorite gardening book,and I have quite a few. I turn to this one more than any other. Edward C. Smith discusses his "W-O-R-D" method: Wide rows, Organic soil, Raised beds, and Deep soil. I stole the image from; you can't really search inside by clicking on the picture.

Ed is a big fan of wide rows, which help the gardener devote more of the garden plot to growing space and less to compacted walkways. In Ed's garden, about 75% of the area is devoted to food production, as compared to 50% in the average home garden.

Mr. Smith explains how to evaluate your soil and amend it so that it will improve over time. he'll help you determine whether you have clay, sand, or silt, and how to transition toward a loam structure. He helps you understand which amendments are best for your needs and your circumstances. He also gives an overview of composting.

He talks about how plants grow and why deep soil and raised beds are better for the root structure and the overall health of the plant. A healthy plant not only produces healthier produce, but it withstands disease better and pests will pass it by in search for weaker plants which make easier targets.

Ed discusses pests and diseases, how to recognize them, and how to combat them organically. In addition to organic pesticides, he goes into companion planting. Thanks to information in his book, this year I will plant companion plants to deter the squash beetles and Japanese beetles that gave me fits last year.

Also included in the book is an overview of crop rotation. Rotating your crops even in a small space helps avoid depletion of the soil - for example, tomatoes will use up a lot of calcium while other plants have other requirements. Rotation also helps reduce pests to some extent. While many pests travel far to reach a target host, some lay eggs in the soil and when the eggs hatch the larvae need to find a friendly plant pretty quickly if they are to survive.

Finally, there is a great section on common garden vegetables and herbs. There are lots of photographs and the information is arranged concisely so that the reader can determine planting dates, depths, and other crucial information at a glance. More detailed cultivation information is presented in narrative form for each plant.

Edward C. Smith's excellent book lists for $25 and is available new from for $16.47. Used copies are also available. Here's a handy link to the book on amazon if you want to check it out.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Old Attics

Our home was originally a two story log cabin built back in the late 1870's or 1880's. The above photo is a view of the attic over the original cabin portion of the house. The horizontal supports are logs, and vertical pieces of milled lumber have been used to support the roof. The floor of the attic you see in the photograph is really the ceiling of the room below. I walk on the logs when I have to get around in the attic. I don't think the floor/ceiling would support my weight. In some areas you can stand in the attic and look down into the room below. As you might imagine, we lose quite a bit of heat in the winter time. Insulating the attic is high on our to-do list. Until now we had other, more pressing winterizing to do, but the attic is next.

There are a lot of old mud dauber (or mud dobber, as I thought when I was younger) nests in the attic. There is also a small amount of inherited junk, like this bit of bed frame. The bees get in easily because the roof comes down above the walls but does not touch the walls. There is a completely open gap to the outside, like you'd have on a shed where the roof sits on rafters and the trusses sit on the walls. I looked up roof construction and I think our roof was constructed without a fascia. We have a soffit and the gap is above that.

I've been up there when it was raining (moving bowls around under a couple of leaks we have) and it's a wonderful place to be when it rains. You can feel the moisture in the air and see the rain dripping off the roof into the rain gutters. Of course you can hear the rain falling really well, too.

The roof of the house is made of the wood planks. I guess it's about 1x6 or 1x8, I haven't really paid attention. Above the wood is the metal roof. There's no sheathing, no insulation, no felt, no plywood or particle board or anything like that. Just milled lumber and then metal. Some places you can see the metal where a knot has fallen out of a knot hole.

On the left is a stove pipe for our wood burning stove. In front of that is an older chimney structure. I don't know when that would date to, but it's cool and interesting looking and will eventually provide clues about the development of our house. On the right way in the background is a huge paper wasp nest. I didn't even notice it was back there until I took this photograph with a flash and noticed it in the photo. Click on any of the photos for a larger view.


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