Saturday, June 12, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 131

 After several days of good, needed rain, we’re having a quiet, cloudy but not rainy Saturday. The cats are sleeping on the front porch, the dogs are stretched out in the living room, and I’m sitting here feeling very grateful that two of the largest projects we had lined up for this season are now behind us. 

With the rain and the season, November Hill is right now in tropical jungle mode. Grass is growing, flowers are blooming, trees are thick and green, and the farm is teeming with life. This week marked the end of dog romps in Poplar Folly for the season, thanks to my son spotting a large copperhead in the pathway. I had hoped that what I’ve always heard was true: that black snakes are territorial and keep the copperheads away. We know we have a number of black snakes back there, so it seems this is a myth, or at least has exceptions. We keep a path weed-eated along the back fence since we use that as a walkway and place to sit and watch the honey bees, and there are several other bare path areas from the dogs running, but the brush piles and other foliage are there for wildlife, and snakes reside in that category.

I had been tromping fearlessly back there but will probably be more watchful now. I always wear my muck boots, and I don’t mess with the wilder sections of the folly, so it’s likely I’ll never see all the snakes that pass through. But for safety’s sake we’ll keep the dogs out until we get around to autumn again.

I’m happy to say that in the barn, the swallows are flying, the horses and donkeys are happy, and yesterday, when his chiropractic vet arrived, Keil Bay broke away from my husband and trotted out of the barn, giving her the perfect look at how he’s doing. He had very little needing adjusting, and he’s finally shed his winter fur. I’m happy to see him so feisty. 

Hopefully this week I’ll get some photos around the farm. I’ve been forgetting to take my phone with me when I go out, and there’s a lot to share right now. Early summer on November Hill is always nice. Not yet to the multi-shower days of midsummer!

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Sometimes A Project Delay is Exactly What You Need

 Well, we lived through 95% of the house painting. The front porch and front steps are left to do - they got rained out and we ran into the inside work that meant tons of foot traffic via the porch so they will be back next week to finish that up.

Today we lived through the attic HVAC not only being replaced, but being replaced with electric unit instead of the old propane fueled one, and that meant HVAC crew + electrical crew and oh my god, I honestly thought this day would never come to an end. 

Five minutes before they were ready to roll out, the downstairs unit failed! The HVAC crew valiantly rallied knowing they needed to fix it for us before they left, and I know they were exhausted after a complex attic replacement in 90+ degree heat. 

They determined the drain line was blocked but each time they cleaned it out, the unit ran for 10 minutes and then stopped again. They had to remove entire pieces of the unit in order to look deeper into what was going on. Turned out to be a very clean but very dead mouse. 

I think the indoor animals were relieved to finally be let out of their rooms after a 9-hour day. We were all relieved that we made it through this long-dreaded home repair. 

So when Pella emailed that they went through the boxes containing our three custom windows and everything looked good but ONE piece was the wrong size, and it would take a month to get that in, I basically said THANK YOU SO MUCH because they were coming Monday morning and I was dreading it after the two weeks of painting and today’s very high intensity attic work. 

We all need a month to recuperate and now we have it!

The house looks great, the upstairs is cool, and these things are checked off my list with a big fat black Sharpie. Yay!

Monday, June 07, 2021

A Rare Weekend Away

 This weekend was my husband’s and my 27th wedding anniversary. Thanks to our children, we were able to go to the NC mountains and spend it pursuing a long-time dream we’ve had - to purchase land in the NC mountains.

I’ve been scouring the internet for months looking at online listings, and we’ve gotten pretty good at finding land parcels on GIS systems so we can do preliminary research. We found one parcel we loved about a month and a half ago, and tried to use a local real estate agent to look at it and possibly make an offer. It became very clear that the agent (who is amazing at home purchases in our larger area) was really in deep waters with the nuances of mountain land and all the individual quirks one must know about to make a responsible purchase. I switched my scouring from properties to mountain agents, and found one who seemed perfect for us. When I contacted her, she apologized that she has retired, but gave me a name and asked if she could pass my email on to him. I said yes, he contacted us immediately, and wow - it has been like night and day working with someone who grew up in the NC mountains, knows the ins and outs of everything we need to know, and was ready to jump in with us on this journey.

This weekend we explored one property each day - Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. These were the three we’d narrowed down to after the hours of searching online. 

I can’t say enough good things about the agent, who drove us (in various 4-wheel drive vehicles depending on the road systems of the properties) to the tops of mountains and helped us experience the feel of each one. His knowledge is going to be key as we figure this out.

The three properties were absolutely stunning in person. In three different counties across the entire western end of our state, they were each very different, and each had pros and cons. One we had to rule out because the road going in and up is not adequate and the $$$ involved in improving it, plus the need to get right of way landowners on board, plus the lack of electricity or water, proved too daunting. 

Making things more difficult, the other two properties weigh out nearly equally on our “love the land” scales, and they are so different from one another it’s like picking an apple or an orange - or two fruits you love - it’s almost down to what are you in the mood for in the moment you look at them. 

We have a lot of research to do, and some thinking, and also need to keep our eyes and minds open to other properties that come on the market. 

I can’t think of a better way to spend an anniversary weekend than riding in a Polaris on gorgeous mountain land that’s for sale, while asking questions, soaking in the landscapes, and dreaming of what we would do to create a little haven without harming the land. It was wonderful. 

A little sampling of the very few photos I took, these from the property that won’t work - I was too busy soaking everything in through my whole body to focus much on photos!

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Brown Bunny Potager, update

 I’ve done a few things in the potager this week. 

But first, we have our first tomato! 

This is the view from the veggie bed side of the garden, with a new bench and bird/bee bath. 

I added a butterfly cottage near the bronze fennel in case any butterflies need lodging. 

This is from behind the bench, obviously. I’m thinking of using a horse panel to make an archway structure for native coral honeysuckle, that the bench actually sits beneath. (Thank you, A and J, for the idea!)

I have one more thing to add, and today we got sweet pepper and eggplants to put in. The tomatoes and cucumbers are flowering and the basil is growing, so we’ll soon be ready for some summer salads. 

This has turned out to be a fun space on the farm. 

And a couple of shots of the new paint color on the house. If you look at the upper left corner here, you can see the old paint on the upstairs side against the new paint on the back and lower story. The old paint color likely faded quite a bit but it also had a pink undertone that I wasn’t fond of. We’re rid of that with the new gray. The sun was obscured and the sky was dark overhead in this photo, so the overall color is a bit darker than it really is.

This is the new color and a truer rendition thanks to the lighter sky.

Of course, in true domino fashion, now all I can see is the orange tone of the concrete foundation wall. I am already thinking of a new project for which I need a local stone mason.

It never ends! 

Friday, May 28, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 130

 A busy week here on November Hill. The painting began on Wednesday, on the back side of the house so we could get that “back” for the dogs as quickly as possible. However, there was significant wood repair to be done to window trim and fascia boards and this crew did a gorgeous job with that and caulking, so they just finished the painting up yesterday. It is gorgeous! The quality of their work is impressive, and I’m a picky person. 

Yesterday afternoon they moved to the cat tunnel side and are doing repair work and caulking there, and they started the first coat of paint. They should finish up that side of the house by the end of today. 

Of course, this is all meaning cats and dogs are much more restricted than usual and it’s been challenging but has also coincided with 90+ degree days, so keeping the dogs and cats in with dogs going out on leash for bathroom breaks hasn’t honestly been such a bad thing. 

In addition to the contracted work, the crew and foreman agreed that they can build additional ‘screen panels’ for the front porch railing sections so that when they remove the chicken wire that was previously stapled on to the actual porch rails to keep our cats in, they can paint and then screw these panels on so we can remove them as needed to freshen up the rails and banisters as needed. I’m really grateful that they’re willing to add this to their work. 

This company was very highly recommended. They’ve been in business 50+ years and are both local and a family effort, and the foreman and several of the crew members have worked for them for 20+ years. It’s a pleasure to deal with a business who treats their employees so well they stay with them for entire careers. 

Outside the umbrella of the painting being done, we had another big thing happening this week. On Tuesday morning my son alerted us to the sound of a cat meowing over and over and over again. The stray cat was in a tree adjacent to our property line, 40 feet up a tulip poplar tree, in clear distress. We tried for 36 hours to get the cat to come down, and on Wednesday evening we paid a man with a bucket lift on his truck to come and rescue the poor cat. He was in surprisingly good shape for having had no food/water for that long a time. We brought him in to our garage room which is nice and cool, set him up with a little food and water, a litter pan, and a comfy carrier, and took him to the vet yesterday to have him scanned for a microchip, which he didn’t have. The vet said he was around a year old, appeared to be neutered, and on the surface seemed healthy. We made an appointment for next week to get him tested for feline diseases, and brought him home again, and moved him to the camper so he could have more room to explore.

We put announcements on Facebook and NextDoor and last night the owners contacted me. They live close by, though not in our neighborhood, obviously, and it turns out a little girl whose 15-year cat died the day before this cat, who lived with her grandparents, disappeared. This cat was slated to go live with her at some point, but he was in our neighborhood, getting stuck up in what turns out more than one tree since Mother’s Day! She’s coming to get him after school today with her mom. A happy ending to a big cat adventure. I’m relieved because we were all struggling with the idea of trying to incorporate another cat into our currently stable animal family. 

The horses and donkeys are managing the stress of having a work crews adjacent to their barn, but between the heat, increase in yucky bugs, and the commotion, I know they’re ready to get back to quiet early summer days with the fans on and their breakfast tubs and hay. 

We have electrician work and HVAC replaced June 8-9 and then the front windows replaced June 14, and that is IT FOR BIG PROJECTS until the summer heat has ended officially in the fall. 

In honeybee news, we combined the queenless Artemis hive with our captured swarm Mnemosyne. We used a single sheet of newspaper to separate the two deep hive boxes, putting Artemis on top of Mnemosyne. The idea is the bees below will gradually chew through to the upper box and by that time the pheromones will be adjusted to so there won’t be any fighting. So far, so good. This is the first time we’ve combined a hive and we suited up but did not use smoke. The bees were all very gentle and cooperative. The hard work of this fell to my husband, who closed the entrances on Artemis and heroically carried the entire deep box with bees inside plus its stand down a hill, through a gate, and up a narrow and difficult path to where the Mnemosyne hive is. I’m glad this is done!

Hegemone 1 swarmed on - gosh - I’m not sure what day it was without looking at my calendar. It seems that their swarm and return to their hive a couple of weeks ago was a practice swarm in advance of the real thing this week. My son was again the one who saw it, and videoed it, and this time they flew up and away from November Hill toward the 100-acre Wood behind us. May they be happy and thrive in their new bee tree home! 

The bees that stayed behind look very busy and presumably have a new queen in process. We’re keeping an eye on them but so far they look great.

Hegemone 2 is doing some bearding in this heat, which makes me think their population is such that we may need to split them sometime soon. Ditto with Echo, who are bearding a LOT, and I’m sure we need to split them. We’re trying to wait for a cooler day to do that. 

So, overall, we came out of winter with two hives and after these splits we’ll be up to six. I have just enough equipment to contain all these girls and that’s going to be it for this season. If we have more swarms that I can capture, I have two nuc boxes to put them in, but otherwise, whoa! The apiary is full and I think we have more than we can handle on our hands for this year!

The vegetable garden and potager are great. I meant to take some photos - I have installed a bench to sit on and a butterfly house, and I have a new bird house to put up once I have time to get it out there. The 5-lb. very easy to use electric weedeater I bought has made it so easy for me to keep the grassy part of the potager trimmed back. I like having the grass in there, mixed in with clover which the bees love, but it does add another maintenance chore to keep it trimmed. 

Rafer Johnson had a little bit of hard swelling below one eye last night and he absolutely refused my offer of a cool compress but was perfectly willing to take a little dose of Banamine and a peppermint. This morning it’s back to normal, thankfully. I realized I don’t have my usual tube of Terramycin, so this was a reminder to order some for my kit. 

Today my house helper sent us a beautiful cake for Memorial Day, and we’re going to enjoy it on Sunday (the painters are working tomorrow AND on Memorial Day Monday) for what will be a nice day of relaxation in this very busy week. 

And, finally, we’re getting a very welcome break from this heat starting tomorrow, and hopefully some rain late in the day to water everything. If Sunday ends up being gray with drizzle it will be icing on the cake!

Saturday, May 22, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 129

 We’ve rocketed from early spring temps (60s/40s) to early summer temps (90s/60s) and whoa, I was not ready for this shift. Thankfully the mornings are still cool enough that I (and the herd) get some comfort time before the heat builds through the days.

My farm helper got us mostly caught up this week on mowing and weeding tasks, and mulched remaining pollinator beds for me. I weeded the veggie beds and tied up the fast-growing tomatoes and cucumbers. The bronze fennel from last year has come back beautifully, and the caterpillars will be happy about that when they arrive.

This week the house was power-washed in advance of the painting to begin Tuesday morning. There was a bit of a mess the day they came to do the cleaning, arriving an hour and a half late and at the last moment I learned they were planning to use bleach even though I had made it clear that was not okay on our farm, so they scrambled valiantly and got Simple Green. They were here until 7 p.m. because of the mix-ups with start time and materials, and that wasn’t great in terms of animal feeding routines, but we managed.

Here’s a before shot of the house:

In the midst of this our window replacement for three upstairs windows was put on the schedule for Monday, then taken off again by the company. I’m ready for all this stuff to be behind us, but I do understand that jobs can take longer than planned and we have to accommodate that. So we’re now having Monday “off” from work and then will plunge into the week of exterior repairs, caulking, first coat of paint being sprayed on, second coat being brushed on, and all the trim being done. The power washing shot stuff onto my pollinator bed plants in one area, and honestly I did have a bit of a shrieking moment when I saw it (thankfully after they left), but there’s not much to be done. I’ll say it again - ready to be beyond this!

Yesterday on top of this the internet went wonky so we had the technician out to look at it. He fixed it and said if it goes wonky again, it’s probably time (after 26 years) to run a new line from the box on the street to our house. The existing line runs up the fence line through the front pasture and then arcs to the house, and to have this done means one of those ditch witch machines coming through the entire front pasture. We discussed a plan to bring a line outside the front fence parallel to the gravel lane, then come along the side of the driveway up to the house. This will be simple and outside the pasture area, but once it gets to the garage area it’s got to get to the side of the house which means driveway or flower bed. Ugh. Anyway, we’re not quite there yet, so I’m putting that on the back burner for now.

I’m really happy to report that all my southern bayberries are growing, as are the winterberry hollies, and the shade bed plants are also doing well. They seem to be having growth spurts this spring. The Gray’s sedge, eastern columbine, and mountain mint I transplanted to the other side of the front walkway are doing great as well. My next small project in that area will be to find a flat planter to move the pitcher plants into so I can control the moisture better. I have a spot ready for it and they will be happier in the new home.

The two pollinator beds I added last year are doing well too. In the fall I’ll add more variety of things to these beds. 

Not all my elderberry live stakes have survived, but some have and are doing quite well. This week past I discovered a volunteer elderberry in the front field. They are mildly toxic to horses but generally not palatable to them, so I’m pondering if I need to remove it, fence it off (which could be part of a small area that will also help with rainwater run off as it’s own one of the steeper slopes in the front), or just leave it as it is. 

So far they are not touching it at all. 

We also did a poison ivy removal chore this week. My farm helper doesn’t react to it, so he took a bag and the gloves I insisted he wear and pulled it all up for me. I used to do this with a vengeance and a good riddance but have since learned that poison ivy is a native that is beneficial to bees and other pollinators, and that there’s a theory that the poison ivy in the trees of our forests here are at least partially responsible for the spring nectar flow that our bees so depend on coming out of winter. The current recommendation is to remove only that which poses a direct exposure threat and to leave it in the naturalized/wooded areas. We removed it from our backyard (!), the beds, and the wooded edge of our front area where the dogs run, and in Poplar Folly where we and the dogs spend time. 

Our attic HVAC is set to be replaced on June 9, the electrical work will be done the two days prior to that, and you can bet that when we close the gate on the last of the work being done this spring, I am going to celebrate and settle in for some peace and quiet the rest of the summer. 

I have some small projects to work on and that’s it.

I’m looking forward to saddle fittings and the possibility of getting Cody and me into riding shape again, and you know, I think Keil Bay might enjoy ponying along for some walking time. It would never work with the pony and any other horse, but Keil and Cody are already joined at the hip, so I may as well use that to keep us all going. It’s worth a try to see if it’s fun. If not, we just won’t do it again. :)

I can’t believe we’re rolling toward June. I feel like April and May have shot past and here we are facing summer already. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Message From Clementine, To Me

 Yesterday I put a new package of premium dog chews in our “treat” cupboard, in advance of giving them out to the hounds when I went to do barn chores. I put the package away, closed the door, and went about my morning. 

A little while later I came through the kitchen to find this:

Hmmm. I’m super proud of Clem that she simply opened the door and waited for me to see it, when it’s true that she could easily reach the package and rip into them herself. She’s growing up!

Still, it wasn’t yet time for me to go to the barn, so I closed the cupboard and went on with my household chores. A little while later:

Just in case you forgot, she says. 

I didn’t. When it was time, I handed out the chews and headed to the barn. What a good girl you are, Clementina Ballerina Ladybird. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Arcadia update

 So, the day after Hegemone 1 swarmed, they seem to have gone back into their hive boxes. I have been researching this, trying to figure out what is going on. Apparently, sometimes they do a practice swarm, but if that was the case, they probably would have done the real swarm yesterday, and they did not.

I also read that sometimes when a virgin queen goes on her mating flight, the workers come out and fly with her, sometimes forming a swarm until she returns. It’s possible this was the case, but with so many bees in that hive it’s hard for me to imagine they didn’t have the original Hegemone queen when we did the split back in April. 

In any case, they are back in the hive as of yesterday afternoon. I checked all the hives to see how things were going. Mnemosyne, the bait hive now in new/permanent location, is busy. Hegemone 2 is busy and booming. Hegemone 1 busy and booming. Echo is busy. Artemis is still super slow but I do still see a little activity and I know the hive is full of bees. 

In a continuation of drama though, the tree where the bait hive was until we moved it had two black snakes lounging in the place where the hive had been, with about 15 bees buzzing about! It was enough like a rain forest jungle that I called the dogs to me and we left Poplar Folly!

Here’s to spring and all the stuff happening on the farm. :)

Friday, May 14, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 128

 We’re having some drama on the farm this week. First, Cody came in Wednesday morning with a left front leg looking elephantine, so we had the vet out. Skin infection! Never seen this in all these years with horses. He got a very well-done leg wrap, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, and thankfully Thursday morning the leg was about 65% better when we removed the wrap. By today when the vet came for acupuncture on Keil Bay and the Mystic kit-meow, Cody was about 90% better. So, we’ll keep rolling with his meds and I’m grateful this has resolved so quickly for him.

Good drama with the Big Handsome Bay: he is off all NSAIDs, had a great chiro adjustment last week, a great hoof trim yesterday, a great acupuncture today, and is now doing his big swinging panther walk again for the first time since last October. I am so happy I contacted a saddle fitter today to come and adjust his saddle JUST IN CASE there may be good days ahead to do some walking together in the arena. I also scheduled a saddle trial for a new dressage saddle for Cody. He can use the work, I can too, and we need a well-fitting saddle just for us. 

Bee drama: my husband heroically moved the bait hive box with bees inside from the tree to its new location last night. This morning, in an unrelated event, Hegemone 1 swarmed and my son captured it on video. I would share it but there were some choice words being said as he watched this huge huge huge number of bees swirling through the air from the hive to the top of an adjacent tree where they still were last time I checked. It was quite a sight. 

They’re way too high up to consider capturing, so this is my gift to the feral bee world. I hope they find a good place to live. They have super genetics!

This creates a brood break for the remaining Hegemone 1 colony which should effectively lower any varroa mite counts, and I’m now officially on the Tom Seeley method of beekeeping, which is one deep brood box plus one medium super for honey plus letting these swarms happen as the bees see fit. 

And for the grand finale of November Hill drama, a pair of black snakes right below our honeybee watering stations, mating. So long, copperheads that may want to move in! We have a slither of black snakes coming soon!

Thursday, May 06, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 127

 This week we had one near-90 degree day and Hegemone 1 did this:

It’s called bearding, and honey bees do it (generally) when they are trying to cool the hive to keep the brood at the right temperature. On this hot/humid day these girls removed themselves and their body heat so the bees left inside could maintain the proper environment for brood health. I continue to be amazed at the innate knowledge honey bees possess. It’s fascinating to watch them. 

On Saturday we got our new nuc, which was a bit of a drama because the nuc had opened up and there was a cloud of a hundred of more bees outside the nuc when my husband went to pick it up. There’s no way to get them back inside, so he had to cover the nuc with a tarp and bring them home. I hope the workers left behind integrated with another colony. We set the nuc on top of the waiting Echo hive box, opened their entrance the rest of the way, and left them be until yesterday when we installed them into their permanent home. I hope they settle in and get to work during the peak of our tulip poplar nectar flow!

Also, in an exciting turn of events, we had a swarm move into our bait hive last Thursday! This is possibly the most exciting bee event I’ve been party to thus far, though I didn’t actually see the swarm move in. We’ve left them to settle in. The bait hive in our case is actually an 8-frame deep hive box, so we won’t have to move them out of there, but will simply take the box down and put it in its permanent location when we think they’re ready. Which is in itself a guessing game!

I just remembered I need to buy a hive stand to put them on. This colony is named Mnemosyne, who was the goddess of Memory. Once we get them set up, that should be it for the big stuff this spring and summer seasons. Artemis is still going, not exactly strong, but they seem to be hanging in there. If the Echo nuc thrives the way I’ve been told they will, we plan to take frames of eggs and brood and nurse bees and move them to Artemis to help get them fully on track. We’ll see how that goes.

In other news, we’re gradually managing the outside projects that always get ahead of us this time of year. I’ve mowed the buttercups in the pastures once, and my husband mowed the grass paddock yesterday. Our weed-eater suddenly needed work, so it’s in the shop and I have a very lightweight electric one that I plan to use for my own small chores. Hopefully on Friday we’ll get the weed-eating done and the annual poison ivy removal done.

Our way-back fencing is about 90% complete. There’s one small section that was confusing and we’ve had to figure it out on the fly, but that will be completed Tuesday and we can check that whole thing off our list. 

Our upstairs front window replacement scheduled for yesterday was canceled at the last minute by the company, and is now rescheduled for May 17th. We’re on the list for top to bottom exterior painting and the HVAC guy is coming today to look at our 26-year old attic unit that will get replaced. Once these three tasks are done, I am calling it a done deal for home repair projects for the season. 

In the gardens:

I’ve planted three oakleaf hydrangeas, two new mountain mints, additional white wood aster, and we’ve put in tomatoes, basil, and cucumbers in the potager. We still have two wild plum trees and a persimmon tree to add to Poplar Folly and then I’m calling myself on adding anything else to the gardens until fall. (Even as I type this I realize I will probably break this pledge, so don’t be surprised when I do so!)

Everything is coming up beautifully and I’m very happy with the progress of my native plant transformation. 

Another thing I’m happy with is my gradual but effective process of getting the garage storage back in control. By sending a few things to the Habitat store or the dump each week I’ve managed to get things back in shape down there. My joke is that we have a general store in our garage, and it’s like taking inventory when I start clearing stuff out. 

I’ve also completed one closet update in the house. There’s another closet 50% done. And I am not sure I can take on the bedroom closet right now. I may save that for July when it’s too hot to do anything else. 

Oh, and one very fun announcement:

My prose poem Journey won third place in the NC Jung Society poetry contest! I’m super excited about it and happy to be included in the list of winners. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 126

 Here we are nearing the end of April - it’s been an odd month here weather-wise: dry, with some very hot days and some very cold nights. I put the house plants out on the deck and then had to bring them in for several days, which I rarely have to do. And pollen - I feel like my throat has been gravelly for weeks on end. 

At the other end of the conversation about April though, are lots of good things: plants coming back after the winter months, the early pollinator plants blooming, seeing the bayberries and winterberries leafing out and become more actively growing, and of course the green tree foliage that transforms November Hill into its most private, lush season. 


The herd: are all mostly shed out, though the donkeys always shed later so they still have some winter coat. Keil Bay is doing well. I slowly, slowly weaned him off the Equioxx to see if he was okay without it, and so far he seems to be. Equioxx is an NSAID and while I’ll put him back on it without a blink if needed, it can have side effects specifically to the liver and kidneys. So far his bloodwork has remained good but spring and summer are good months to see how he does off it. I did put him on Phytoquench, a supplement that has devil’s claw, which may be helpful, and if needed I’ll switch to a trial of PEA, which has been researched in horses with arthritic changes and I’ve heard good things about it. For now, he’s good, and the thing I see helping the most is his acupuncture. 

A quick segue to me - I’ve had 3 acupuncture treatments and while the first was the most dramatic, I definitely feel better overall. I have one more in the initial protocol, then we’ll move on to target specific issues. I’m getting used to the needles! It’s really kind of amazing given my phobia.

Back to the herd: we had ACTH levels checked for Keil, Cody, and Apache. Keil is right in the middle of normal range so his Pergolide is doing its job. Cody was a little higher in the normal range, so we’ll continue to keep an eye on his level. And Apache was in the range for PPID, so I have just spent the past 4 days tapering him up to therapeutic dosage which he reaches today. I used APF and will continue that for another few weeks as he stabilizes on his full dose. His winter hair was much longer in places than it’s ever been, and he has held on to his chest hair even though the rest of his body is now slick. I’m glad we caught this and got him on the medication.

PPID is fairly common in older horses, but can manifest in younger ones as well. It has its own host of symptoms that come along with it, but the scariest one to me is the compromised immune system which can leave your horse open to infections of all kinds, including things like EPM, which Keil Bay came down with last fall. 

For the most comprehensive info on PPID I highly recommend - the site lays out the basics, and if you join the email list, you will learn more than you ever thought possible about IR and PPID. If you have easy keepers, breeds prone to IR, seniors, or horses you intend to live with until they become seniors, this is the best info you’ll get on what to watch for and how to manage these conditions. I have good vets, but they have been happy to hear the info I’ve gleaned from being on this email list for years, knowing that one day this info would be something I needed. The info about tapering a horse onto Pergolide with APF is pure gold - it alleviates the main side effect of this medication, which seems to happen to some horses when they go straight onto a full dose. 

Dogs and cats are enjoying the season - the water hose is back in play and Clementine absolutely adores it. The Corgis are not much into water, but they have their own things to do when the full farm romps happen. 

The bees are hanging in there. Hegemone 1 and 2 are booming. Artemis seems quiet still but when we open the top to look in, there are many bees and they are busy. Both bait hives continue to be checked out but thus far no swarm has arrived to take residence. Our new nuc was delayed due to the very cold nights we had last week, but it should arrive this weekend. It’s going to be fun having 4 hives!

I’ve been busy with garden tasks, house projects, a few farm projects, and writing. I completed Flowering Plant Families, which was a great class and super interesting as I (slowly) make my way through the native plant studies program at the NC Botanical Garden. 

We’ve having a birthday party this weekend to celebrate all the April birthdays here - husband, daughter, Keil Bay, and Apache Moon. I’m grateful these four are in my life and happy to serve cake, ice cream, apples, and carrots to mark the occasion. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 125

 Another busy week on November Hill. I’ve been watching the bee hives closely after our runaway split + putting a frame of eggs/brood/nurse bees into Artemis hive. Every day things look a bit better.

Hegemone 2 (I’ve decided to keep the Hegemone split in the same name family for ease of tracking) never even slowed down. This is the upper deep hive box that we put on its own stand. We don’t know if the queen was in this box or the bottom box but both upper and lower had brood and eggs so... it will remain a mystery since we do not mark our queens. This hive is crazy busy right now - workers coming and going with pollen and nectar, drones flying, and orientation flights happening daily which is one sign of population growth. 

Here’s Hegemone 2:

As you can see, my colors are getting mixed and matched as we move forward in this beekeeping endeavor. The teal bottom is the stand with a screened bottom filled with 5 or so inches of forest floor “compost.” The darker hive box on top of that is the brood box - it was the upper deep on the old/original hive. We added a wooden slat queen excluder - it will discourage the queen from laying in the medium super above it but the slats are far enough apart that the workers don’t have to squeeze through (thus damaging their wings). On top of the medium super is our glass innercover which allows us to take the roof off and check things out without breaking the hive boxes apart and disrupting the propolis seals and the bees. It has screened holes for ventilation and for feeding during times that’s needed.

Hegemone 1 was moved to Echo hive’s old location. Because its activity slowed a bit when we moved it, I watched super closely to make sure I was seeing pollen going in. The first day was quiet, the second day a bit more activity, the third day that doubled, and today it is extremely busy. Nectar and pollen coming in, a few drones flying out, and orientation flights happening as well. I’m so relieved it’s doing well. One of these two hives is either raising a new queen or had one in the works already and in that case she could have gone on a mating flight and be preparing to lay her first eggs. 

Here’s Hegemone 1:

You can see the stand, the deep brood box, the queen excluder, the medium super, and the top. I’ve ordered a glass innerview cover for this hive and we’ll add it when it arrives. We put medium supers on both these hives because of the sheer number of bees the boxes had and because we’re rolling into our main nectar flow season. My only concern at this point is that we’re having three nights in the 40s coming up and I’m a little worried about that. They should be fine. 

We moved the bait hive sitting on the ground to its new location previously not used in our apiary. It’s ready for a swarm to move in, but if that doesn’t happen by April 24th, our new bee nuc will be moved into it. This is a new genetic line for us and is said to be gentle, quick to build up in the spring, and a huge honey producer. Supposedly it will build up so quickly we will need to do a split to get the swarm it would have cast. So we’ll be watching it very closely once it arrives.

I’m naming this hive Echo since it is technically replacing the Echo hive that was robbed and absconded last fall. It looks tiny here but will soon have a medium super, queen excluder, and innerview glass cover of its own. 

Finally, Artemis, our failing and queenless hive got its frame of eggs, brood, and nurse bees. If all went as hoped, the bees selected an egg and are raising a new queen, the brood is hatching out, and the nurse bees are now becoming foragers. Every day since the addition of the frame has been slow until yesterday when I saw a tiny bit of an uptick in activity. Today that has doubled or tripled. There’s still plenty that could go wrong with this rescue effort, but we’re hoping they make it. Some would say add another frame of eggs and brood and nurse bees each week until it’s up and running, and I have considered doing that, but since we split Hegemone, our strongest hive, I don’t want to now weaken those two splits by taking more bees from them. If Artemis is still struggling when it comes time to split the new Echo nuc, I’ll consider 

combining one of the split halves with Artemis. For now we’re watching and waiting. Artemis had two deeps and since the top one was nearly empty, we took it off to reduce the space this very small colony had to guard and protect. Now it’s a single deep with innerview glass cover and its top. Once they build out, if they succeed, we’ll add a medium super so they can work on putting resources up there for the dearth time this summer. This hive came from the same farm as Hegemone but was never as strong and maybe had an old queen from the beginning. We just don’t know. I’m rooting for them. 

The second bait hive in the tree is very busy with scout bees checking it out today. I’m very excited - it would be so cool to catch a swarm this way. We’ll see. Every day I’m walking down with binoculars to sit and watch and see what clues I can get from all the hives. It’s better than TV! 

In other news, with help, we have finished the deck work, got the camper cleaned out for spring, have a few small repairs (thinking of Shawn Colvin’s song here) to make inside, and got the garage swept and dewebbed. We’re about halfway done replacing some back of the farm fencing. 

Still to come this week is a load of mulch, a quote on the attic HVAC, and some work in the garden beds. 

Keil Bay has acupuncture tomorrow and it’s perfect timing, as he has been sticking his hind leg out again. He’s in good spirits, and all are in need of good baths, but we’ll wait for the 40s nights to pass before we have the first bath of the season spa day. 

All the rest of the menagerie are good, the humans are good, and wow - we will be all the way to May before we know it. 

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

November Farm journal, 124

 Monday I got my first acupuncture - it was a little scary but not painful and I had an amazing visualization initially of being an insect pinned to a board - which sounds awful but was more intriguing than anything - and near the end had a visceral visualization of being a caterpillar forming a cocoon and then beginning to form wings. 

I felt lighter leaving the session and better overall. Yesterday I had the brilliant idea to give away the plethora of extra goldenrod coming up (that I really needed to clear out)  to local beekeepers if they would come and dig them out. Today four people came by, we all wore masks, and I spent the entire day doing gardening and hanging out while they got their goldenrods. It was a super fun day, with great conversations and in some way seemed to mark a shift in my overall mood toward (a new) normal. Masks - yes - but still, social interaction. 

I feel that the acupuncture is a big part of this happening.

Thankfully my farm helpers worked hard on Tuesday doing a lot of weeding in the pollinator beds and finishing up the work under the deck in the back yard. As always, there are more projects than I can tackle, but today I was able to start the process of transplanting some extra growth from one side of our front sidewalk to the other side. I hope I can move one species across a day, and extend the visual field of that pollinator bed across the sidewalk as a continuation. I need to take some photos to show this, and I will if I can remember to stop and do it while doing the work.

Everything is coming in nicely so far. I’ve gotten on the mulch delivery list early and will try to get these beds cleared of winter foliage, weeds, and mulched before the end of this month! I’ll make that goal thanks to my helpers, who work like speed demons compared to me. :)

The herd will be moving to night-time turn-out soon. Rafer’s grazing muzzle has been fitted and he accepted it without any drama. It is light in weight and not restrictive for air flow, and he seemed fine grazing with it. Unfortunately, the halter size that I thought would fit the donkeys is too small, so Rafer went into the pony size and now I have to order two more pony size halters. This weekend we have to get the track set up now that everything has arrived.

We’re in the throes of pollen season now and it’s a mess already! Will get worse before it gets better, but I’m so happy to see leaves on trees and green and spring, I won’t complain. 

Too much to do, too little time, but I love that today I got some work done and also took the opportunity to enjoy great conversations and camaraderie with several very interesting beekeeping gardening women. Joy!

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 123

 This week we have scout bees checking out both our bait hives. Hegemone hive is bursting at the seams, and as soon as we get past the point of having cold nights (several nights this week we could be seeing temps at 29 degrees F!) I’m going to try doing a runaway split using Sam Comfort’s method of taking the brood box and base of Hegemone, moving it to where the Echo bait hive is now sitting, and move the Echo base to Hegemone’s current location with Hegemone’s top box. The idea is that the original Hegemone brood box contains the queen and she and nurse bees plus lots of eggs and brood will go to a new location. The old location will have some brood and resources - and a number of foragers will return to the new Echo hive we’ve placed there. The Echo hive will have to raise a new queen, and this gap in egg-laying will create what’s called a brood break, which is a good way to also create a varroa mite break. The runaway part is that you don’t get invasive - you simply move brood boxes and let the bees do their thing.

The main benefit is that with Hegemone thriving right now, we’ll avoid their natural swarm - or to be more precise, we will get to keep what would have been their swarm - and by doing that we’ll have two very good hives going into the nectar flow. Hegemone genetics are good by all measures we can make, so we want to keep them and build our apiary using their swarms as much as we can.

Artemis hive is still very small. I’m seeing a little bit of activity and we’ll see if they pick up as we move forward. 

The scout bees I’m seeing around the two bait hives are very light in color, so I’m thinking these are not any of our bees scouting. I’m hoping we’ll get to see a swarm move in.

Over the weekend I did a mild power-washing of our back deck. After a lot of consideration, mostly having to do with what I can tolerate in terms of work being done this spring, we decided to simply repair our existing deck and spruce things up a bit instead of having the entire thing redone. I ordered a few things from Lowe’s, did curbside pick-up, and here’s what I ended up with:

I have to admit that I’m a failure at power washing. It was obvious as I worked on it that if I really went at it, I could get the deck back to near original condition and then would need to treat it for best results. However, doing this in the few spots I tried it meant that a lot of dirt was flying onto the sliding glass doors and side of the house, and I would have needed to then clean THAT off, and I definitely did not want to end up having to treat the decking right now. It feels like everything sets off a series of domino chores needing to be done. I pulled back well short of that happening. 

Today we had some help taking care of an issue that’s been developing over the past year with a certain canine family member who methodically dug out a cave den beneath the deck steps that was 3x her size. This hole was holding water when it rains and generally just a big fat mess. 

This is where we got to addressing that today:

The muddy when wet clay beneath the deck is now covered with clean gravel, the cave den has been filled in, and we have a tidy grid panel to keep the dogs out. The panel to the far left is removable for accessing the dryer vent, and the deck railing and stair rail have been repaired so they are stable again. I’m going to plant something in front of the longer section of railing that will act as a rain garden type thing to help with run-off which has been happening since we bought the house. We’ve slowed it doing some other things but this should really make a difference. 

Once we get the rest of the deck underlay graveled and paneled, we’ll also have a cat door so they can go in and out. They like having space where the dogs can’t go, and this will do nicely for them. 

I really wanted the grid paneling to be black enamel, but it’s been out of stock at all the local (and beyond) sources for months and this project couldn’t wait. At some point we’ll redo the entire deck and when we do, we can make some upgrades. This will do for summer and fall and then we’ll see where we are. 

I’m grooming huge wads of fur off the equines this week, in particular, the pony, to the degree that I am getting his ACTH checked when the vet is here this month. He may be having PPID symptoms. The pastures are greening up quickly and we have all our materials to move to donkey and pony get fit boot camp. 

In other news, I received my second Covid shot today (it feels like today still but at this point it was yesterday). I have a sore arm and I woke up at 4 a.m. but other than that am not having other issues yet. 

We’re expecting rain/storms this afternoon/evening, a few days of much cooler weather, than more clearing and warm days beyond that, when I can move on to the garden beds that need to be prepped for spring!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Welcome to the world, Baby Will

 This happened over the weekend and we are very very excited to meet this little poppet. Photo credit to his beautiful mama.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 122

We’re rolling along into spring here on November Hill. The maples have bloomed, redbuds are blooming, the red deadnettle is full of bees, and the dogwoods are preparing to pop out. In the garden beds, many things are leafing up and out, and I’ve started removing the winter foliage that we left for birds and insects. It’s time to start the weeding too, but I like to let the early flowering weeds stay since they do offer some pollen for native and honey bees.

Spring means grass, right? And for people with easy keeper equines it is a mixed blessing. This year Rafer Johnson is carrying more weight than he needs to, and honestly, so is the pony. Redford was gelded later than the norm and either because of that or because he just has different genes, he doesn’t tend to pack on the pounds. Even he has a little bit right now! So, I made the hard decision to put all three of them in grazing muzzles and ordered the new Thinline “Flexible Fillies” ones with padded halters to secure them. These are softer and lighter in weight than the old basket muzzles, and they offer much more “breathing” room. I am sure they won’t be popular with the donka boys or the pony, but my hope is they’ll be the least worst alternative to endless calories.

I also ordered supplies to create a track area in the back pasture that will connect to the riding arena. When the herd is turned out to the front, the littles will wear their muzzles. But when they’re turned out to the back, the littles can have the arena plus a track that will run most of the perimeter of the back pasture, with two areas that widen out for a lot of room for puttering around. They won’t need their muzzles on when they’re turned out in the track area. 

My plan is to do a full-on boot camp with them this spring, on through summer, and into fall, in hopes that I can turn things around with the weight gain and they can handle late fall - early spring normally. We’ll see. The good thing is that Keil Bay and Cody will be right in the midst of the track so no one will feel isolated or separated. And when they’re in during the heat, the paddocks are both minimal in grass so they won’t have to wear muzzles for that time either. 

Right now out the window the donkeys are playing their donkey-go-round game, which reveals their dexterity and burns a lot of calories I’m sure, so I’m happy to see them in such good spirits. Imagine how much better Rafer Johnson will feel when he can run like his namesake!

Keil Bay is having some minor symptoms this week. We had the roof replaced, then the next week we had the arborist do some tree work, and we also had a rain/storm event (that thankfully did not really hit us the way it could have) - all these things combined created some stress on the farm and it’s during these times that I see Keil sticking a hind leg out. He’s in super spirits though, and his chiropractor did some big adjustments last weekend, and she said she thinks he’s doing well and that I shouldn’t get too upset by the leg thing. He’s stable and he really does seem happy, so we’ll keep doing what we’re doing and celebrate his 32nd birthday next month!

Speaking of birthdays, Cody just had his 18th. How in the world is he that many years old? He remains the handsome, easy-going, sweetheart he’s always been. And honestly, he could use some riding, so maybe that will be our adventure this spring. Happy birthday, Cody! 

In other news, we have put up a bait hive in Poplar Folly. And it has scout bees checking it out! Maybe we’ll get a wild swarm to move in. I’m eagerly checking it daily. For some reason, I can’t get any photos to load right now, so I’ll add a few in a new post later.

Hegemone hive is bursting at the seams and I’m going to try something called a “runaway split” to see if I can get a new hive going from this very robust one. Their genetics seem perfect and I want to expand them in my apiary.

Artemis hive - a puzzle. They were not as strong as Hegemone from the start, but they made it through the winter. They are just not very active, and the next warm/dry day we’re going to go into the brood box and see what’s happening. I’d like to seem them build out and get stronger and I may try to move a frame of brood from Hegemone into Artemis - I’d love to get them to accept a queen cell from Hegemone if I find any. All this is more manipulative than I really want to be with the hives, but while I’m learning about beekeeping I’m going to push myself to experiment some and see how things go. 

Generally, we’re taking a little break from home repairs. I’m getting a quote today for exterior painting, and since that will at least be quiet and I can keep the herd in the back, we’ll move forward with that when we can get on their schedule. 

Writing news: I learned yesterday in a pure piece of random whim, that my short story Trauma Tattoo was honorably mentioned in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, volume ten. This happened in 2017 and I just learned of it yesterday! I’m truly honored, as she is the queen of horror anthologies (horror being an umbrella category that includes science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction, which is what Trauma Tattoo is). My stories in this vein are more Twilight Zone than pure horror, and I’m really happy I found out that TT got some notice the year it was published. 

Writing weekend is coming up, so I’ll be putting in some writing time and getting on the track again after a busy month.

On the Covid front, my immediate family is almost totally 1/2 vaccinated. I get my second shot next week. This feels like progress, and I’m grateful for the leadership that made the roll-out happen. To be clear, that is Biden/Harris and our governor Roy Cooper. 

I trust spring is starting to peek its way into many of your farms, yards, and windows. It’s good to be where we are this year, isn’t it?

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 121

 We’re in the middle of a wonderful dry and sunshiny but not too hot ten day stretch here on November Hill. Spring is definitely in the works, with daffodils in bloom, many trees starting to bud, bees bringing in pollen, a pony shedding like mad, and some greening beginning to happen in the pastures.

In the midst of this, though we also had three nights with temps in the twenties. Ice in waters outside and some blanketing to keep the Big Bay warm. I think tonight we shift to warmer temps and it will be good to try and get sheets and blankets clean during this warmer, dry spell.

We’ve had a bit of a spring cleaning thing going on last week and this. Last week I finally got the estimate done for the upstairs windows that face out to the front of the house. The big picture window was original to the build, so 26 years old this year, and its seal has failed. The French casement window I wanted to replace it came in at $30k, to which I said, um, no thank you, so we found something similar to that but not nearly as pricy. I’m going with wood inside and aluminum clad out so we don’t have to deal with the outer frames of the windows succumbing to the elements, and the picture window plus the smaller windows on either side will be casement windows that open out instead of the double hung existing ones. More useful to us, attractive, but not the arched French version I’ve been ogling for a few years.

I got a bee in my bonnet and redid the arrangement of things on the kitchen counter. I’ve created a coffee/tea/toast area where everything is gathered nicely for ease of use. Of course this meant finding a place for the things I displaced, and in the end I’m going to have to re-organize a few cupboards, but it’s pushed me to clear out some unused things, which is always a good thing to do periodically.

Our hall closet has become a nightmare of coats, duffel bags, hats, gloves, leashes and dog gear, so I ordered a few fun fabric bins and a wall hanging fabric thing with pockets to try and bring some order and pleasant aesthetics to this very small closet. The storage stuff is lovely and sitting on the dining room table because when I open the closet to begin this reordering, I am just overwhelmed with the thought of actually doing it. I’ll wait for the day I get the bee in my bonnet for the closet and it will go much more quickly!

Yesterday and today our roof is being replaced. I’ve lived through a re-roofing in other houses (rentals in my younger days) but never with five indoor cats and three dogs. Yesterday started pretty well. I kept the dogs quiet with chewies, put Clementine’s “suitical” on when she got nervous, and we watched the entire season of This Farming Life on BritBox. Thankfully the cats came downstairs and found places to curl up for the day, and until two workers came in the back yard unexpectedly and without permission all was well. After a conversation with the owner, we regrouped and made a better plan for today. Right now all is calm and not too noisy. The cats are in their spots, the dogs have chewies, and we’re watching the old PBS series Old Creatures Great and Small. For some reason having the TV on with animal shows seems to make things better. And running the washer, dryer, and several fans also has helped mute the sounds. 

The roof was also the original one, so it’s lived a good life. I’m excited to see the new one - not the black shingles we had, but a mix of grays that I think will look nice.

The horses are happy in the back pasture, Keil is doing well, and even with all the extra stuff going on, I managed to get the arena harrowed when it was still damp enough to harrow easily and well. Today is hay day, so the hay room is being tidied out and new hay coming in. Yesterday my new garret chair arrived and is sitting strapped to its pallet in the garage - it never fails that things sort of pile up to create a three-ring circus effect here, but I guess it’s good to get it all over with at once.

After today we’re taking a break from invasive projects for a bit. There are a few more things on the agenda but we need some quiet days to recuperate first.

For the first time in months, one of the tasks for today is to WATER the bayberries and winterberries! I’m so relieved to be drying out, I don’t even mind this.

In other plant news, our Meyer lemon tree suddenly burst out with blossoms - at least 15 total, and the little lemon that came from the first bloom (the only bloom at that point) is now turning yellow. It’s still tiny but on its way. I’m not sure what has prompted this growth spurt, but I’m happy to imagine a little tree full of lemons in another 9 months or so.

We’ll be putting our bait hive up in a tree in the next week or so in hopes of catching a honey bee swarm. I’m eager to see if this works for us - it will be a first and a big experiment in learning how to replace any hives that do not make it through the winter. This year we need to replace one, and I’d be happy to get two, so we end up with four going into next year.

I have no photos to share today but will have for the next post! 

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Redford’s official birthday portraits

 I have to preface this to say that these are raw photos from my daughter and not the finished photos they will be when she processes them digitally, but she is so busy with her semester courses I am too impatient to wait and share the final products.

A few days after Redford’s 13th birthday, she put these in our “fam chat” text and I shrieked with delight. She always captures the spirit and the essence of each living creature she photographs, and this is so so so Redford.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A few glimpses into the week on November Hill

Not the best photo, but through the windshield as I was driving in. I got winter gate decor a month ago to change from the holiday/Christmas horse head wreaths. The young woman who makes these is on Etsy and she will customize if you want something she doesn’t have listed. I love the hanging stirrups and the wintry foliage. Hoping I can make the change to spring wreaths sooner rather than later, though!

It’s my birthday week and I have treated myself to three gifts, one of which is below. A new embroidery project, a rainbow of floss, and the time each day to do it. (Can you guess which element of that combo is the hardest?)

This is me.

The second of my gifts to self: the Dualit toaster I have wanted for 30+ years. I had such a hard time picking the color. Decided on the bronze, and I love it. I’m creating a coffee/tea/toast area on the countertop which involves (of course) changing all the kitchen cabinets around which is going to confuse me for the next year or so, but maybe it also creates new neural pathways. :)

We had five equine dentals yesterday but thankfully the first of three warm, sunny days to dry things out. The night before the dentals it rained like cats and dogs and the ground is so saturated it is a muddy mess AGAIN. But the dental work went very well, it’s over for the year, and the herd is out today enjoying the sun on their backs. 

If your birthday is coming up, do something special for yourself. If not, do something for yourself for MY birthday. It’s been a rough year. You deserve it. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Happy Birthday to our youngest herd member, Redford!

Who is now a teenager! From here on out, it’s probably going to be my standard first line in birthday posts to say:

I cannot believe...

Redford is 13 years old!

Aside from all the wonderful things Redford is, this year he became Keil Bay’s constant companion through the EPM ordeal, and I am so very grateful to little Redbug for taking that on, and doing such an amazing job. When Keil has vet appointments, Redford insists on staying with him to offer support, which is not an easy thing since Redford is not all that fond of vets himself. 

And I should probably add that Keil Bay loves vet appointments and loves every bit of attention he gets, so Redford is offering support to the king of being the center of attention. 

But Redford is always willing and even eager to stay with Keil no matter where he is or what is going on. 

All this to say that Redford is a super special donkey and we love him dearly.

Here’s a photo from this week:

When Redford was very young, the only white on his face was his star, and if you think of that star as representing his superstar power, as you can see, it has grown exponentially to the point of being a blazing galaxy of goodness. I am always drawn to the whorl that he has front and center. It makes me think of the third eye and how much this little but powerful donkey knows about the world around him.

Love you, Redford! You will always be our superstar here on November Hill! 

A few thoughts on EPM, and an update on the Big Handsome Bay

 As regular readers know, Keil Bay, 31 years old, was diagnosed with EPM in October, and had:

90 days of treatment with Marquis + corn oil for better absorption

30 days of Rebalance

acupuncture weekly, now monthly

continued careful chiropractic adjustment

monthly Legend injection

specific to EPM homeopathic remedies

a supplemental regime including increased vitamin E, a specific research-based immune system supplement, duralactin, and his other senior horse supplements

bloodwork to monitor vitamin E levels and kidney/liver function

Equioxx and bute depending on symptoms

rehab work

All of this was put into place with a collaborative effort between 4 different vets and my own research. As of today, he is 100% most of the time, but seems to have mild relapses happening a few days a month. Most importantly, he seems to be happy and content all the time. 

On Wednesday, the second of two sunny and dry days we had this week, I went out to give some apple slices to the herd. Keil was all the way down the hill in the front pasture, and I walked to the upper flat area where I began to give out the apples to Cody, Little Man, and the donka boys. In a moment’s wonder, Keil Bay looked up, saw me, and galloped perfectly up the hill, taking the narrow path between the outer fence line and a number of trees along that area, the trickiest place to gallop through. It happened so fast I didn’t have time to go into my “oh my god what if he falls” mode. I saw him launch into a gallop from a standstill, watched his path, and then suddenly he was stopped on a dime two feet away, sticking his muzzle into my hands while keeping his 1250 pounds carefully away from me.

To say I was happy in that moment is an understatement. In the early days of the diagnosis I feared for the worst outcome, and at 31, we will of course reach the worst outcome at some point, but for now, as he moves toward his 32nd birthday, the Big Handsome Bay could be the same age he was when he came to live with me, and for that I am so grateful.

I took a one-hour CE course designed for veterinarians on EPM a few weeks ago. Unfortunately the info presented was so basic I already knew more than what was offered, and the treatment part of the class was woefully short. I could have added so much more info to the mix, including a list of research studies that guided my own plan for Keil Bay. By throwing everything but the kitchen sink into his treatment, I certainly muddied the waters of what aided in his recovery, but with this disease, which can be so debilitating, and expensive, it seems like doing it all is the most efficient way to address it, since lag time, and the damage to neurons that happens while you stretch things out, is not a place you want to go. 

This was never stated in the class. Nor was it said that nerves can regenerate with rehab and horses can regain function if given time. I feel badly for the horses and their owners who aren’t told this quickly so they know it from the beginning and can make treatment plans accordingly.

I’m grateful for knowledgeable, open-minded vets who did extra research, listened to my findings, and supported me and Keil in our journey with this disease. And to my husband, who took on the rehab and made it his own personal mission to get Keil’s neurons back in good working order. And of course, grateful to his herd who support him psychologically every single hour of the day, and Cody, who has stood beside him and allowed Keil to lean on him quite literally when needed. Keil has a great team, and all of us, including his vets, love him and are so happy with how he’s doing.

This week Keil had a full hoof trim with zero difficulty. That and the perfect gallop up a hill to a perfect stop for apples, this is the best part of my week. My month. And certainly among the top five of my year so far. Can’t wait for the birthday bash we’ll have in April. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 120

 After many days of rain I’m happy to say that I see blue skies out the window and some sunshine. And our temps today are going up into the high 50s, a welcome relief from the upper 30s/low 40s. I do know that our “ugh” temps sound like a dream to those of you dealing with single digits, and that days of rain is possibly preferable to feet of snow. We’re all used to what we’re used to though, and I think for all of us, it’s hard when weather pushes us beyond what we’re set up to manage, so hopefully all of us get a break very soon from our relative extremes!

Unfortunately we had a Saturday night visit to the vet school hospital ER with Baloo, who suddenly seemed to lose use of his hind legs. It turned out he was able to walk, but just didn’t want to, as it was painful, and after a neuro exam and x-rays plus sedation with pain medication, he was discharged with more meds and a diagnosis of IVDD, a condition/disease of the discs in the spine that is apparently relatively common in Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

He came home very groggy but ate some dinner, used the bathroom, and went to bed gated in our master bedroom, where he continues to be on restricted activity. He woke up Sunday morning looking 100% like his usual self, which is a little puzzling, but he’s getting acupuncture on Thursday here on the farm, and will soon have an appointment with the vet school specialty clinic in neurology. Hopefully an MRI will reveal more and we can develop a comprehensive treatment plan. He’s only 4 years old, so we want to do everything we can to insure he heals, and that we know exactly what we’re dealing with.

Keil Bay has, in spite of too many days hanging out in the barn due to rain, been doing very well. His acupuncture scan last week was “the best he’s ever had” per the vet, and he had a normal full hoof trim done this morning. Aside from being generally annoyed at the weather, or is that me projecting my own feelings onto HIM, he seems happy and healthy right now.

With all this rain, the farm is mostly mush. Combined with mud. I’m constantly making efforts to manage the dogs tracking the mud in - in spite of layers of microfiber mats and a couple of towels on top of the permanent laundry room rug, some amount manages to make it in to the living room. I’m doing laundry nonstop.

We have more rain due on Thursday, then by the weekend it looks like full sunshine again. I’m so ready for spring I could burst! Or even winter without all the rain.

In other news, the arborist kept his appointment in spite of the rain, and pronounced all but one of the trees healthy. The one he wants to take down is a small oak near the arena - he’s going to take the top off but leave the base, which has a perfect owl or feral honey bee hole in it - I’d like to see if either will take up there. Otherwise, he’ll do pruning on the ones that need it. I’m very happy to hear this - the one very large oak closest to our house has seemed like it needed something or was perhaps declining, but he doesn’t think that’s the case. A few branches removed and he thinks it will be fine.

Still pondering what to do with the deck, and continuing the stone work in the front pasture. 

What felt overwhelming yesterday suddenly feels fine today - it’s amazing what sunshine and blue skies will do to one’s mood!

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Thoughts on the creative process, and something beautiful.

 Back in the fall I found someone whose work reminded me, in a loose way, of the kind of farm sign I’ve been wanting for 15 years. The first couple of years we lived here, my husband took photos from the front and one November he captured what is for me the essence of our farm and why we named it November Hill. I’ve tried to explain what I wanted to various artists and sign makers since then, but no one seemed to get what I was imagining, and so I just waited.

Based on the portfolio of this artist, who specializes in home paintings and does some signs, I felt like she could do what I wanted, if only I could explain it properly to her.

I sent her the photo and a few images harvested from Pinterest of various farm signs, showing her the way I want to hang it, the style (such a nebulous concept) of the overall effect I was seeking, and she and I went back and forth for a few weeks about colors and fonts and sizes and when we had a basic sense of what she would do, I paid her half and she promised to get to work. 

Thanksgiving came and went. I sent her an email promising I wasn’t rushing her but just checking in. She said she was working on it but was behind due to a large number of orders. 

Christmas came and went. She said she was still struggling to get caught up with orders and assured me she would get the sign done by the end of the year. I need to say that I had no concern at all about her actually doing the work and getting it to me. She has many good reviews from happy customers. But I was getting a sense, mostly just a faint feeling, that she was struggling not with having too many projects, but with my project in particular.

I had built up the idea when I described it to her. Explained how much I wanted this specific look, that I had been searching for the right artist for years. I think I transmitted my own vision so perfectly it locked her into something that became a huge constraint. She so clearly wanted to give me what I was asking for. 

When the new year came and we were well into January, I checked in again. She apologized profusely and I told her there was no rush, no pressure, that I simply couldn’t wait to see it and that I would be happy to wait because I felt like she was the person to do it, and if it took months more, that was okay. 

I promised myself I would leave her alone and not check in again. 

Today, I got a message from her saying it was finally done. She sent a photo. And I can’t explain how, but I could feel her tentative fear - what if I didn’t like it. What if I hated it. What if I had waited this long and hated it. Possibly the worst scenario - what if I said something mediocre, like, okay, thanks, that looks fine.

I know she wanted me to love it and I know I wanted to love it. I opened the attached photo and thankfully, it blew me away. I cried. I’m so happy with the result - it’s exactly as I had imagined it, and I wrote back more than I’ve written here in this post telling her just how much I love it.

She confessed that she was terrified to start the project. That she got my vision from the start, but wasn’t sure she could bring it out of her paint brush onto the wood. Isn’t this how we all feel with writing, painting, creating? We have that idea, it’s so clear in our minds. But to bring it to fruition in whatever artistic medium we work in is always the tricky part. The hard part. Sometimes not even possible. 

I’m so happy she did it. I think I’d have appreciated her efforts even if they had not quite matched what I hoped for, but sometimes these things work out perfectly and she’s sending it tomorrow. I just cannot WAIT to hang it up and see it every time I drive through our farm gates. 

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. Look for what you want, go with your gut, be patient, and when you get what you hoped for, savor the heck out of it. I’m sharing her photo and will of course share it in its new location soon.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

November Hill farm journal, 119

 Well, another week, several more days of rainfall. I am grateful we’re not in drought but now we’re in tropical rainforest territory, though cold. The horses have to have their sheets on as I do not want Keil Bay getting chilled, and they are all weary of mushy ground. Thankfully the sun came out this afternoon and it looks like sun tomorrow, then I see rain on the forecast several more days this week.

I’m seriously thinking we need to cover our arena - not enclose it, but have a nice cover that lets us see through it from the house to the back. The idea of huge equipment back there totally freaks me out though.

Meanwhile, we’re making some progress getting stone put in to the stormwater creek bed in the front field. We’ll leave large gap areas in the flat spaces for the horses go to through, but the sections that are deep/steep are getting stone, and then in the fenced off bird habitat area we’ll do more extensive stonework, as that’s an area where water tends to pool out. If I can get some research done I’d love to put in a small water feature for birds and frogs. 

The barn roof repair was completed nicely and now we’re awaiting shingles that are on order so the house can get its new roof. The deck in back is next, though I keep shifting my plans for what we’ll do with it.

I’m worried about the two bee hives, Hegemone and Artemis. I peeked at them on admittedly a colder than they like day and the upper boxes were super empty looking from above. I hope they were in cluster below. One hopeful sign - Hegemone girls have propolised their bottom entrance hole (about the size of a half dollar) so that it’s now a bee-sized hole only. As I noticed this and leaned down to check it out, amazed, one of the girls came to the hole and peeked back at me! 

Keeping my fingers crossed they make it through the winter. They have sugar patties available to them and have been taking that thus far.

I’m about halfway through my Taxonomy and Winter Flora native plant studies classes and am enjoying being active in that program again. Mostly on Zoom, though we have met for winter garden walks with everyone masked and distanced. 

This weekend past was both a friend’s book launch party via Crowdcast and my monthly writing retreat via Zoom, so it’s been busy here!

This week we have an arborist coming to assess the large oaks around the barn and house, as well as the two hickory trees in our back yard. All of them are beginning to grow toward house or barn and need to be pruned, and I’d like someone to do it with an eye toward the health of the trees at the same time. I’m very interested to see this work done once we get it scheduled.

Keil has had a number of slightly off days but looked really good today, so I hope we’re back to some normal weeks again. He had chiro here last week and had a minor pelvic adjustment but was mostly clear, which is terrific. And although he is done with his 5 p.m. medication buckets, he now gets 5 p.m. extra pellet buckets because I knew he’d be upset if we just stopped. He’s 31. He can use the calories. He can use the pampering. And he loves it. 

That’s about it! Hope all are hanging in there through this wintry month (for some of us much more so than others, and I’m not complaining about anything but the rain here!).