Famous Last Words…

I did say in a previous post that one of my resolutions for this year was to spend some time each day writing.  I confess, though I’ve been fairly busy with other endeavors, I have not been writing–not even in my journal, which is usually a regular thing.  And I say “fairly busy” because, though I usually have a project or two in the works, few of my endeavors has been so time-consuming that I could not simply sit and create.  So, before I digress with self-recriminations, let me apologize and then forgive myself for my lax; sometimes I’m simply my own worst enemy…

It has been a brutal winter this year in the Northeast with over 3 feet of snow and sub-zero temperatures.  It was so cold–despite the well-built hutches and henhouse–there was one evening in particular all 4 rabbits, 4 ducks and 6 chickens “bunked” in the house with me, the 6 cats, 2 St. Bernards, 2 guinea pigs and 2 birds!  I made a temporary corral for them in the “spare” room and they stayed for 2 nights, the ducks and chickens going back out to the coop on the second morning.  The 3 rabbits (I lost my “geriatric” rabbit, Cindy, in February…) are still “rooming” upstairs in the family room while I attempt to erect stalls for the soon-t0-be goats and sheep; the shed is plenty big enough for 3-4 each.  As soon as the stalls are erected, the bunnies may return to their much-roomier hutches–and possibly new roommates.  Not only goats and sheep but more Angora bunnies either through a breeder at the Connecticut Sheep and Wool Festival or Brooklyn Farm and Pet, a new business that has sprung up within walking distance from here, and has been both a saving grace in providing good quality feed and hay for all my critters, for a fraction of the cost I was paying elsewhere, and also being a bit of the bane of my existence in that they also showcase ducklings, chicks of various breeds (including my Silkies that I’m debating adding to the flock…), rabbits, chinchillas, degus, guinea pigs, rats, mice, gerbils, hamsters, ferrets, iguanas and other not-so-appealing-to-me reptilian creatures and a wide array of birds and fish–also at reasonable prices.  In short, the only thing keeping me from going bankrupt is the daily reminder that Unemployment Insurance doesn’t last forever and the pet and farm sitting business has been starts and stops getting off the ground!  This could well become a small petting zoo should their “influence” persist.

I lost my bees this winter.  The empty hive is a bittersweet reminder of warm, summer days just sitting off to the side of the hive, watching my girls flying in and out with their little legs loaded with pollen.  Before the big snowfall that gave us the biggest accumulation of white stuff, I added a second quart jar of sugar water to the hive so my girls would have enough to eat.  But it still wasn’t enough.  By the time the temps rose enough so that opening the hive again wasn’t such a hazard, the jars were empty, the frames were empty–except for a few at the outer edges–and there was a pile of dead bees in the bottom of the hive.  I have ordered more but the loss saddens me.  It is a learning curve, to be sure, but the cost of so many lives is a painful lesson.  My bees were an unexpected joy.  They are fascinating creatures and it was a wonderful experience to have a few gently walking over your hand in greeting and then simply flying away again.

But before anyone thinks it’s been all hardship, worry and sadness, since January I have been participating in the University of Connecticut’s Master Gardener Program.  Talk about re-enforcing everything that I’ve been learning independently through Path to Freedom, Countryside Magazine and others about growing fruits and vegetables!  I was worried that the class might be more of a re-enforcement of more mainstream gardening practices like Miracle Gro, chemical pesticides and rototilling but it’s been just the opposite with these mainstream practices being considered a last resort after all other attempts have been exhausted.  Suddenly, I am surrounded by people who share many of my passions for gardening, canning and preserving, composting and other homesteading endeavors.  Sure, there are others who are also more mainstream but, overall, I’m no longer a minority and that’s been worth the long chapters and endless piles of flashcards I’ve been making to test myself about what I’m learning.  Some of the best parts have been the chapters on Soils, Tree Fruits, Small Fruits, IPM (Integrated Pest Management) and, believe it or not, Entymology.  While I’m sure I won’t be able to ID every insect that creeps through my garden and distinguish whether it is friend or foe, I am fairly confident that I can accomplish this with the majority.  And, if not, I have a wonderful resource in the 3″ thick 3 ring binder that is mine to keep.  The irony is that my garden plan this year is much more humble than last year’s and I didn’t even start any seedlings; I’m planning to direct sow instead as the homework was pretty intense and there just didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get any seeds started!

Another bonus to taking this class is the now-familiar extension center right here in Brooklyn–also within walking distance.  Through them I have accessed so much information and it’s a wonderful resource for any farmer, homesteader or even small container gardener.  Oh, and I’m supposed to remind everyone to “get a soil test” and make sure they “read the label as the label is the law” if they do decide to go the chemical fertilizer route…”

I took the UConn Sheep Shearing Clinic last week.  I got the information from the extension center and traveled to Storrs, CT where the clinic is held.  I confess, my proclivity to all creatures great and small has me puzzled as to the sanity of allowing newbie sheep shearers to practice on live animals.  I guess there’s no way to simulate this endeavor otherwise and, either it’s cost-prohibitive or else sheep don’t respond well to tranquilizers (it does seem it would be easier–and safer–to shear them if they were unable to kick so much…)–or both–so we worked with nervous first-timers and even more nervous sheep but, luckily, only a few significant “nicks” were inflicted and none of them were life-threatening.  I was the last to get a sheep.  I’m thinking it might’ve been better if I’d volunteered to be one of the first as I had the misfortune of seeing some of the injuries before my turn was up.  Again, they were minor but the poor sheep had my sympathies.  It’s a relatively easy process but the sheep are also contorted into what I can only describe as sheep-yoga positions to keep wrinkled skin smoothed out and avoid injuring those really delicate areas like leg creases and udders.  But, having never worked with sheep, and not having even a flock of my own yet, I wanted to watch a few shearings before I attempted it myself.  When I did, I made what my instructor, Bill, said was a common mistake.  In my fear of injuring the poor creature, I didn’t get the shears close enough to the skin and so, left about 1/2 inch of wool behind, having to make a second pass in some areas.  However, once I found that layer of lanolin and assured myself the skin was taut, the wool cut like warm butter; I was quite proud of myself in the end: not one nick even with a few double passes.   I am hoping, besides shearing my own animals when I get them, to add this service to my pet and farm sitting business.

I’ve also been learning horse grooming from my friend, Nury, learning and practicing on her equestrian friends until I’m good enough at it to offer this service, too.  It’s much easier than shearing sheep…even with some over-enamored tom turkeys following me about the barnyard!

In closing, I have to say it’s good to be back at the keyboard again.  And I wonder why I’ve been neglecting this part of my life; it, too, may prove a lucrative business in freelancing.  Another investment has been this year’s “Writer’s Market”; I’m hoping some of my blogs will be good enough to catch the attention of an editor or two…that should be reason enough to keep writing, keep motivated.

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