Thursday, January 27, 2022

November Hill farm journal, 146

 Post snow we have had some warm days - one of them 60 degrees, which gave us a chance to check the bee hives. Four of the five were active, two of those extremely so, with orientation flights happening, which means the queen is already laying to build up the population in advance of the early spring nectar flow. There’s the chance these colonies will build up too fast too soon and then have many new/young mouths to feed before spring really arrives, but the bees do what they do and I’m going watch closely while they do it! 

Sadly our captured swarm combined with the queenless hive has died out. They were both small in number and while they were very active during the summer and early fall, I should have removed their top hive box before winter as it was too much space for them once the summer bees died out. I had hoped they would make it through winter and have a chance to build up properly this spring. However sad, I suspect with the other four hives I’ll be in the position of doing runaway splits and if that is the case with all four, we’ll go into summer with 8 colonies total. More than I really need, but we’ll see if we can manage that many, and if not, may move some up to the mountain house, which will be a whole other kind of beekeeping, since we’ll need to put them inside an electric fence to keep black bears out!

Our holly and eastern red cedar tree installation has had to be delayed due to the snow and wet ground. We’re getting another round of rain/snow this weekend, so it looks like we’re a couple of weeks out at the very least before the trees can be moved in and planted. I took advantage of this delay to call our gravel guy, who miraculously had a cancellation and came right over with a load for our driveway, with a second load to come on Friday. I’m glad to get this done before we start moving the trees in, and grateful we have someone who does such a great job with it. 

The horses and pony and donkeys are all doing well. As much as I fret about inclement weather, they seemed to love the snow and they are all good sports about wearing their turn-out blankets when needed. We’re aiming to get the second bit of finish work done to the barn this Friday and then when our contractor returns he can go ahead with the next stage. We’ve decided to replace the Hardie-board on the barn one side at a time, starting with the back side which he just worked on. This is of course deviating from my original spring work plan, but it makes sense to go ahead now that he’s got the foundation boards replaced. I’ve done a series of four sketches of what I want done inside the feed room, since this is best done during the time of year the horses are in daytime turn-out. I have no idea how long this will take, but we’re taking the slow and steady work pace so that I don’t get totally burned out!

I walked the farm yesterday to check all my plantings. Everything is in dormant mode still, which is good - I don’t want the scattered warm days to set off buds too soon! In mid February I’ll start the process of trimming back the dormant growth from last year to make room for the new spring growth, and will try to get started with mulching. I’m considering investing in a tool I didn’t even know existed until yesterday - a vacuum mulcher for leaves. The NC Botanical Garden uses leaf mulch in many of their beds and we certainly have plenty of leaves every year. My hope is that by March any insects nesting in the leaves will be starting to emerge and I can use the leaves (without killing the insects) to mulch and top off all the beds.

Our cats and dogs are all happy and enjoying life. They are such great reminders to appreciate the small joys, and to live in the present moment.

In my writing life, it’s being a busy and productive new year. I have three short pieces coming out in various places between now and May, and have many other pieces out on submission. I’m working on a nonfiction hybrid chapbook and also on the novel in progress. I did a fairly intensive garret tidy right at the new year and it has really rejuvenated my writing practice. The space is clear and clean and fun, and that’s conducive to creative efforts. 

I meant to take photos yesterday as I was marching about but of course got so caught up in looking that I never even took the phone out of my pocket. However, here’s one shot I took a few days ago, mostly to document how well the inkberry hollies are doing behind Poplar Folly. A good reminder that if you plant and give things a few years to mature, you’ll see the good results of that effort and patience. 

These were quite small when planted, and they’ve grown and matured nicely. The deer have total access to them but do not touch them, so they’re perfect for this space. They flower in spring to provide terrific forage for the bees, and produce ink black berries for wildlife and birds. These aren’t done growing, and as time passes they’ll get taller and fuller and provide a very nice screening between Arcadia and Poplar Folly. This is one example of a native planting decision that has worked out very well. 

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Snow-vember Hill

 My husband got a few photos this morning so I can appreciate the beauty before I begin grumbling about the eventual melt-down. :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Little Joys

 A few joyful things from this week past:

New lamp for my writing garret.

November Hill at night:

Katherine Dunn’s artwork now hanging in the mountain house den:

We’ve had a little snow, a lot of ice, and then some rain, so the farm is a soggy mess, I have the remnants of a barn project to finish, and I’m suddenly having cold symptoms and planning to send in my Covid test today as a precaution, so these little joys are really BIG joys right now! 

Monday, January 10, 2022

November Hill farm journal, 145

 It’s a new year and projects abound. We’re about 2/3 done with the laundry room updating. So far the final wall painting was done, new sink and pipes installed, new washer/dryer in and working well, and now we’re moving on with the wood paneled ceiling, which will be painted the muted white it is now. We had intended to have beadboard installed but it turned out doing the pine individually was not much more money and it will be more beautiful, so that’s on the docket. Our contractor is also making a stained pine “counter top” for the washer and dryer, and open shelving for the wall above them to match. I bought a lovely piece of hand-made tile for the backsplash of the sink, and some additional matching subway tiles that I think will make an attractive backsplash on the side. Until everything else is done, I’m holding off on putting that up, but in the end I think it will be very appealing. 

We’re ordering a Dutch door with arched window to replace the original and not very attractive one we’ve lived with all these years. I don’t know how long that’s going to take to arrive, but we can wait. 

As often happens, here in the midst of finishing up this project, another project that was next on the list suddenly shoved up to the top. The bottom of the barn on the pony and donkeys’ side has had some issues that have gradually worsened. The barn is built on a slope, so the side closest to the house is built up higher than the other side in order to be level. The feed room, hay stall, and pony/donkey stall thus have a much deeper layer of earth that was kept in place with long oak boards nailed horizontally to the barn structure. 

Over time the earth has pushed the boards out, bowing them in the middle, and we have always wanted to correct this but it was never the highest priority since until this weekend it was more cosmetic than anything. However, on Friday the board along the outside of the pony/donkey stall completely pushed out of the beams it was nailed into. Our contractor and I came up with a plan to dig out the “footing” along the back wall, install a two-tiered row of cinder blocks, fill them with gravel and screenings, and then rebuild the footing inside each stall along the back edge. Then he’ll put oak boards in place, using shorter boards so they will be secured with less distance between, and hopefully more stable and secure that way. 

So now, this has bumped the laundry room work. It’s not a big deal, other than just wanting to get something completed before moving on to the next, and anything related to horses and pony and donkeys and safety/comfort trumps anything else, so this is being taken care of this week.

The good news is that once this barn repair is done, and the laundry room complete, we can easily move to the next piece of the barn plan, which is finishing off the feed room so it has an actual floor, real interior walls, and is closed off up at the top so I can have some chance of a dust-free environment for feed supplies and tack. And we are figuring out how to drain a sink and have hot water out there. 

From there we’ll work on stall door and window repairs. Keil and Cody have really made a mess of one stall door and its latch, after learning they could quite literally throw their weight around. They just lean into it and manage to open it, usually during the night when they’re up at the barn on their side, but sometimes in protest during rainy days. Right now it is tied closed with many pieces of hay twine. 

The final project is getting the holly trees installed. This has proved to be a little trickier than it initially seemed, as the landscaper located 11-foot trees and because the root balls weigh 950 lbs. each, it will take a bobcat to move them from the gravel lane to the planting sites. It can only be done when the ground is dry, and they’re going to have to lay down a path of straw and do a few other things to avoid damaging the pasture. At some point in this process we opted to go ahead and order additional hollies to go along the fence on the same side of the back pasture, but because all of this will be, shall we say, activating for this herd, I determined we need to do the front trees and the back trees on different days a week or so apart. 

In the end we’ve compromised on the height of the back trees - 7-8 foot hollies can be moved with the dingo, with less noise and impact on the earth, so we’ll do those the week later. With Keil and his residual EPM stuff I’m unwilling to try to move horses from back pasture to front the day all the front work gets done, and I’m not willing to close them into stalls when the dingo is going to have to go right through the barn aisle to get to the back. 

We’ve worked it out now, and the trees will be on their journey to us on what will have to be a dry day. Thankfully the landscaper handles everything and I can just do the fretting I would do regardless. 

I think in the end they will be quite lovely. We’ll get the desired screening, the bees will get forage, the birds will get shelter and food, and the horses I hope will enjoy having some privacy from the neighbors and their activities. Once the hollies settle in I’ll start limbing them up for a more elegant look. 

These are the actual hollies (the taller ones):

And although a different species in this photo, you can get the idea of what the limbing up will do to the look of the trees as they mature:

We’ll lose a few feet of pasture but the horses aren’t usually on that narrower side of the property in front, and in back there’s more room. It will be nice to ride in the arena with a natural screening of trees to look rather than the back sides of the neighbors’ sheds. 

By the time these projects get done we’ll be into early spring and it will be to start clearing winter beds to make way for the spring growth to come in. I look forward to seeing how the fall plantings do come springtime!

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Writing weekends, 2022


Ever since Covid began, two of my long-time writing friends and I have had monthly “writing weekends,” which are virtual and the closest we can come to mirroring the actual routine we have during in-person writing retreats, which we’ve been taking together for 18 years.

Usually we end up doing two in-person weeks a year at a formal writing residency and/or an AirBnB of our choosing, but when Covid first hit, our scheduled retreat was canceled and I had learned enough about Zoom to put this monthly weekend together. When together in person, we usually meet up in the kitchen for coffee and breakfast, chat some about writing, and then retreat to our rooms to work. We usually end up back in the kitchen together for lunch, and then in the evenings, we meet to read from and discuss our work.

It’s pretty easy to recreate those kitchen times and the reading and discussing on Zoom, and that’s what we’ve done. On our monthly writing weekends, I set up a series of Zoom meeting times and we come together on our screens to do what we might have done if on retreat. It’s worked extremely well for us: kept us writing, kept us connected, and kept us sane.

This weekend is our first of this new year. D is working on some writing room organization and the next chapter in her very intriguing novel-in-progress. L is working on clearing some papers on her desk while also looking for pieces of writing she’d like to continue with from that pile. I’m assembling my nonfiction chapbook and reviewing my short work submission lists. 

We had great discussion last night, met for coffee and toast this morning, and set some goals for ourselves for today’s work time. We’ll meet this afternoon to check in, and again tonight for readings and discussion. 

I can’t express how much this time each month means to me. Seeing them and engaging, but also reinvigorating my writing process. One can’t get too far off the writing track with monthly weekends to pull one back to the work.