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Welcome! Our blog focuses on environmental conservation, education, green living & wildlife rescue! We have put together links to resources, books and information to help you and your children learn more about these topics. Please feel free to comment on any items posted. Rate or review us on NetworkedBlogs (Facebook app) & Blogged. Tell your friends about us. Follow us on Twitter and other sites listed on this page. There's a banner & widget if you would like to include us on your webpage. All we ask is that you please keep any comments here G-rated for the kids!

NOTE: The birds & squirrel pictured at the top of this page and in the slideshow below are just a few that I have helped rehabilitate.
WARNING: Please do not touch a wild animal, especially the young ones. If you remove a baby from it's home, sometimes the mother is just off getting it's baby food and will be back.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Heritage Breeds/Varieties

I've been doing a little research lately on heritage breed chickens because of a hen of mine going broody.  Broody means that she has gone into the state when she is bound and determined to raise her own brood of chicks.  It has been really quite interesting to watch, and although I was not going to raise chicks, I have decided to do so because of the health of this chicken.

Broody chickens go into a zen, almost comatose state and will not leave their nest, and with my chicken it has meant even to the detriment of herself.  When I would try to put her back in with the other hens, they would pick on her terribly, so I just decided to let her stay in her nest.  The point that I am trying to make is that these chickens have a strong instinct that is almost impossible to override, and I got to thinking, why would I want to?

I have a huge demand for my organic eggs, absolutely adore having my chickens, and have the facilities to raise the chicks safely until they can live in with the rest of my chickens.  So, with a little research, and a couple of days of  collecting just the right eggs, we have placed the eggs under our wonderful broody hen.  But with that research, I have learned some very interesting things about heritage breeds.

First and foremost, heritage breeds are very hearty and intelligent breeds, just like my broody girl.  One of my new favorite sites is the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and according to them: "The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy protects genetic diversity in livestock and poultry species through the conservation and promotion of endangered breeds. These rare breeds are part of our national heritage and represent a unique piece of the earth's bio-diversity. The loss of these breeds would impoverish agriculture and diminish the human spirit. We have inherited a rich variety of livestock breeds. For the sake of future generations we must work together to safeguard these treasures."

The site also has a great list of all heritage breeds, whether it be poultry, goats, sheep (which I have), cows or horses.  So if you are at all interested in raising livestock, look into heritage varieties, you won't be sorry.  It takes much less work as they tend to do part of the work for you.  And not only that, you will be keeping a part of our history alive!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Volunteer - oregano?

Lately I've spotted oregano in some unusual places. There's a little volunteer oregano in the dill.

There's oregano in the thyme.

Yes, I said in the thyme. Look closely!

I said in the thyme, not in the - oh, wait a minute. In the pines?

How on earth did the oregano move to different pots on my deck?
Tiny, furry, guerrilla gardeners: the ones with big fluffy tails.
There's no telling what'll come up next. Thyme in a bottle?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I knew I liked his name...

"We have bigger houses but smaller families,
more conveniences, but less time.
We have more degrees, but less sense
more knowledge, but less judgment
more experts, but more problems
more medicines, but less healthiness.
We've been all the way to the moon and back
but have trouble crossing the street to meet the neighbor.
We built more computers to hold more information
to produce more copies than ever...
but have less communication.
We have become long on quantity but short on quality.
These are fast times of fast foods but slow digestion.
Tall man but short character.
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It is a time where there is much in the window
but nothing in the room."
~the Dalai Lama

My friend Tiffany wrote a great post on acceptance yesterday, check it out.  It led me to a great new blog, that led me to this poem.  Thank you, Pilgrimsteps, for the inspiration!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gardening keeps me humble.

Nature does humble a person. No matter how much research I do, online or in books, no matter how many experts I ask, the weather will take its own course. No matter how healthy I am or vice versa, the plants and weeds will keep on growing. They'll fall over before the wind, and I'll pick up what I can, but the storms will arrive when they will. When it's super hot, I'll drain the rain barrels to water the plants. When it's rainy, I'll squash mosquitoes. If I'm lucky, we'll get just enough rain to refill the barrels and all will be well with the backyard gardening world.

Every year I start with plans - big plans. This year the big change was the new tomato plot. We planned ahead, set it up as a large triangle with layers of cardboard and newspaper covered with compost in the style of a lasagna garden. When spring came, we braced the three sides with boards donated by a generous neighbor and then covered the area with about 4 inches of soil trucked in from a local nursery. Then I planted: tomatoes, peppers, and broccoli, with a few wildflower seeds scattered across the back. Fleet Farm had the tomato supports I wanted, and we were set.

Read the rest of this post at Compost Happens. Enjoy the summary of my garden summer and the many ways it keeps me humble.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Making every last minute count

The kids are headed off to school tomorrow; one of my saddest days of the year.  I get so used to having the little pains in the rumpy around that I really miss them when they are gone for the day.  But, as they remind me, I will have some time to work on my next book, so I guess it is a trade off...

Since today was our last day of summer, we had to make every minute count.  My daughter saved up her money this summer from taking care of the neighbors house while they were on vacation and decided to repaint her room; a girl after her own mother's redesigning heart.  Of course the process took a lot of prep work which entailed cleaning out the "little girl" toys.

The morning started with getting every last bit of paint out of the gallon that the dear girl had worked so hard to buy.  I of course will need one more gallon to finish the job while she is at school; three ten year olds did quite a job on the trim, etc, but what the heck, her and her girlfriends thought it was a great way to wind down the summer!

My middle boy starts high school this year, and my eldest made the mistake of telling him that all the high schoolers wear hats to school since it is allowed now.  The sucker in me gave in, wanting him to feel at his best on the first day as a freshman and headed down the mountain to find him a hat.  

It all worked out just fine because I could donate the "little girl" toys that my daughter had gathered to a local charity (making the trip down the mountain more worthwhile in my mind), take my youngest two to an inexpensive lunch at our new local diner (supporting a great new business), and I got the "lid" covered!  And speaking of back to school fashions, they are fantastic!  The colors this year are so vibrant  and beautiful (yes, even for the boys), that I didn't mind doing the laundry, and that is saying quite a bit!

The best part about it, was that I got home in time to catch my oldest son cleaning out his car.  So I pulled my truck up next to his and started cleaning it.  I have asserted for a long time, the best way to talk with a teenager is to do while you both are working.  The words seem to flow easier, the teen seems less defensive, and you're accomplishing a task on your to do list on top of it!

So, for those of you with school age children, good luck this year, and give your kids an extra squeeze, they will be graduating high school like my boy (soon) in the blink of an eye!  And please, by all means, please be aware of the school buses and zones!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Water, water everywhere - cutting consumption

I had mixed feelings the day my rain barrels ran dry. We were in a heat wave, the tomatoes needed water to bear fruit and ripen, and the rain barrels were empty. I turned to Chuck and said, "This will be the first time all summer that I've needed to water plants with water from the house." Impressive, really. My two rain barrels, regular rainfall, and no treated water from the house was wasted on watering the gardens.

Mother Nature provided a rainstorm the next night. Both barrels refilled completely.

Around home it's easy to monitor my water consumption. Rain barrels. Replacing my top-loading washer with a front loader. Using cooking water or dishwashing water to water the herb pots on the deck. Away from home, though, it's another story.

Here's a link to National Geographic's Water Footprint Calculator. I felt good watching my water use average go down as I answered the home questions. My coffee habit is higher than average. As for transportation, I drive a minivan, but drive fewer than average miles. I rarely fly, so that helps keep the average down.

My biggest impact on water consumption is my diet. It's part of the omnivore's dilemma; raising meat animals consumes a lot of water. Cutting down on the amount of beef, pork, and even poultry that I feed our family can make a significant impact on water consumption. As for the coffee - well, I'll have to work on that.

The concept of water consumption presumes a steady supply of clean water, usually pumped through a treatment plant on its way to the user and again after use. The Kalamazoo River oil spill shows another danger to our water supply: our addiction to petroleum based fuels.

Now that I've made serious inroads on my home water use, it's time to look outside the box. Try the Water Footprint Calculator, and read the tips. They're very informative.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Recycled Roof

Yes, a recycled roof.  I was bragging on my daily (almost) blog yesterday about my environmentally, money saving, recycled roof; but I wanted to wait until today, when I could share it with all of you, even the GSO readers, because this is a pretty good one.  Wow, another sentence that would have my English teacher popping migraine (or worse) medicine!

I have to give you a little background here.  I have mentioned (groan, many times, over and over, you, my dedicated readers say?) that our little piece of heaven, The Royal Ranch, sits at almost 9,000 feet in elevation.  It also sits at the base of two almost fourteeners, Mt. Logan and Mt. Rosalie.  Now, I'm not just telling you that to brag, okay maybe a little-ha!, but we get some wicked winds up here, and I do mean wicked.  

This last winter seemed to be particularly harsh.  We had quite a bit of damage, we lost our historical sign, which I posted about here, and we had lots of little pieces of roofing come off the barn.  Well, I hadn't really noticed that those little pieces had all really added up to one big problem until we got all of this rain.  And then the other day, I went to step inside the barn and sunk six inches into the mud.   Now, I'm no genius, but when you are inside the barn, I don't think you're supposed to be slopping around in mud like that!

So, I get to thinking.  We have tried multiple kinds of regular roofing on this barn and it has not worked because of the tree limbs rubbing on it and the wind tears about anything paper like or shingle like, ie: typical roofing.  Okay what about a tarp type situation?  Now wait, I know you all are thinking, what, a tarp?  Now that's pretty hillbilly.  

But wait, these are the sides and the tops of the old hay barn that the wind took year before last.  It was one of those car port type things you buy at Costco, and it would have worked out great if it weren't for the wind picking up the whole thing, that was concreted three feet into the ground, and throwing it around like a ball of play doh (I told you we got wicked winds!).  It bent all of the poles beyond recognition and tore a few of the tarps, but for the most part the tarps were still in tact, and just awaiting a new life.  I recycled the poles, why not the tarps?

As a matter of fact the buildings themselves are recycled.  My tack shed is a six seater outhouse from a Civilian Conservation Camp from the Depression era that was moved here by Charlie Royal.  And the llama/sheep barn is an old chicken coop that old man Royal built himself.  When we first got llamas, we had our then renter, remove a wall and reinforce it for the larger animals, and voila, a loafing shed ideal for ruminants (which is what sheep and llamas are).

Well, it wasn't exactly me that did the work on the roof anyway.  I don't think any of us would want to know the outcome if clumsy old me had gotten up on that roof.  But Tom did a heck of a job.  He laid the first tarp down and nailed it around the edges, and then a second one over the top, to make sure to cover any of the seams of the first one since these were meant to be walls instead of roofing.  He then sort of wrapped the barn roof like a present, and it looks great.

He also used some wood to reinforce where the wind will catch it.  He just took a long 2x12 and nailed it over the tarps.  It will hold down the tarps and to a certain extent guide the runoff away from the front of the barn.  The great thing about this is that now it is essentially one piece, so hopefully the wind won't catch little bits of it.

While Tom did the roof, the kids and I worked on the drainage around the barn.  I dug a few trenches, not really dug, more like guided the mud, to get as much runoff away from the barn as possible.  We all worked on raking up the loose dropped hay to put in the barn to soak up the mud; so it got recycled too.  Normally I would be able to rake this up once a week and feed it, saving myself quite a bit, but it is all too soggy to use; although I did see the chickens happily scratching their way through it, so that is good.

Back to me and my brilliant ideas, thank goodness I have a husband to help implement all these crazy ideas of mine.  I'll let you know how this one holds up, but in theory it's a good one, and it didn't cost me a dime.  So far we have had some really amazing rain storms and the barn isn't any wetter, which is of course what we were going for!

Sorry folks, I am experiencing technical difficulties, and have been waiting all day to get my links together and post this, but it isn't looking like the problem (within Blogger) will be fixed anytime soon.  So, I shall go ahead and publish without the links, hoping that you will come back and check those out another time!  Thanks for your patience~Judy

Monday, August 9, 2010

Next year's garden

I just started picking tomatoes. The first zucchini are still potential on the vine, and the rhubarb has weathered its transplant beautifully. So why am I talking about next year?

Gardeners are always looking ahead. We are constantly learning as we go.

I like the new tomato supports, but I don't really have the right varieties of tomatoes on the right types of supports. Next year, I'll prune the determinate kinds, guide them up the spirals, and put the non-determinate kinds in the square supports. I'll also leave more space between the tomatoes and the peppers; my poor banana peppers are in the shade of the yellow pear tomatoes.

The perennials are moving. Perennial vegetables, that is. The chives are going closer to the house. I think they're tough enough to live on the south side in the sun. If not, well, a few will probably still come up in the old spot.

Asparagus is still in its infancy. I wonder if the crowns (the root systems) are still small enough to be moved? If I don't, the raspberries will take over. It's worth a try.

I can see spots in the new tomato plot that have been eroded from all the rain. It makes me glad the rain came late in the year; the plants had set their roots deeply enough that they didn't fall over or get washed away. I'll add a layer of compost on top of the soil when I'm prepping for winter, and then I'll remember to plant my tomatoes deeply in the spring.

My herbs are doing quite well in their pots on the deck. Last year I brought them inside, only to have them die of neglect. Or die of the cold. Or... lack of sun. I don't know. Is a sun lamp worth the cost, including the electricity to run it? I'm not sure. Learning to dry or freeze the herbs now might be more useful.

But as I look ahead, I must remember that there is still a lot to do in August and September. If the tomatoes keep on giving and giving and giving, I have recipes for stewed tomatoes and a salsa to try. And then there's that pesky item called earning a living; school starts soon, too! I have a classroom to prepare and lessons to write.

I think I'll grab a few tomatoes and a cup of coffee. That'll keep me energized, whether I'm reading curriculum or weeding around the peppers.