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!