garden, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog

Bad Carrots

This year Stephen maxed our garden spot to capacity. For weeks we were loaded down with lettuce, carrots, butter peas, brown peas that I don’t have a name for, green beans, tomatoes, and peppers – and this year we wanted to try and save some of our favorites items to use throughout the fall and winter.

Lots of lettuce ready for the picking

There were some successes and failures….we’ll start with the successes because the failure story is a little rank.

All form of beans were nicely blanched, bagged, frozen, or dried. They are all safely stored in the pantry or freezer.

Onions and garlic were harvested, dried, and hung in the barn loft. Now that most of the hay is gone, it is pretty easy to get up there and move about.

And then, there were the carrots. Our carrot crop didn’t do very well this year, but we still had a good plenty to store up. We had heard once that you were supposed to store carrots pretty much the same way that you store potatoes – and I still have no idea how true that is.

Most people around here just store potatoes under the house. Well, to successfully get under our house you need to be about the size of a small child…and since I wasn’t too confident that my cousin would jump at the chance of volunteering her three year old for the job…we decided that another solution needed to be found.

Stephen and I thought about it for awhile, and figured we’d try using an extra styrofoam cooler. After all, coolers are dark, dry, and are easily sealed up. Looking back, I think it was the easily sealed up part that got us in to trouble.

A few weeks later I’m in the kitchen fixing supper and I smell this horrible stink – and I mean unbelievably horrible. Then I notice this toxic brown slime dripping to the floor – where the heck is this coming from!

The carrots…

Carrots can not be stored in a cooler. They will rot and mold beyond belief – colors and stink that you did not know existed! The toxicity of the slime will be great enough to rot through a styrofoam cooler. I thought styrofoam could not be biodegraded!

Stephen was heartbroken. I promptly sent him outside to get rid of the carrots; he was still speaking out in denial between dry heaves and gagging at the deadly stench radiating from that box.

So friends, what have we learned about food storage and life in Pleasant Hill in today’s post?

  1. Carrots cannot be successfully stored in styrofoam coolers, just stick to the under your house method or preferably whatever a legitimate carrot farmer suggests.
  2. Stephen’s hair really is like mad Bob Ross hair when it hasn’t been cut in several months….and yes his eyebrows are just as big.
  3. We may have discovered a solution to the problem of non biodegrading styrofoam in our nation’s landfills – just seal it all up with some fresh carrots and let nature do it’s thing….if you can handle the eye watering odors that it will emit.
  4. Onions and Garlic in the barn are really nice…plus you feel all old timey when you go cut one down to cook with. Good idea Stephen!
chickens, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog

If you’re a chicken, then why does your box say “police”?

In a day and age where Tour d’ Coops are not uncommon events in chicken communities….I have to admit that our coop is strictly functional – built purely for the shelter and safety of our flock.

Our unassuming, functional coop.

Today, My Pet Chickens unveiled – in my opinion – their coolest, most awesome coop yet. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you My Pet Chicken’s The Hobbit Hole.

Totally awesome, and ridiculously cute beyond all imagination. I mean who doesn’t want this in their backyard? If this doesn’t convince you that having chickens can be life changing and fabulous…nothing will!

But – deep in the fathomless pits of nerd-dom….another type of coop exists – and believe me, it may be even more awesome that the Hobbit Hole.

It is a TARDIS.

With its own Dalek. What!

Well, if you didn’t already know that I’m a fan of Doctor Who, you know now.

In theory, I think having a TARDIS coop would be crazy fun; but I know that I would fall victim to a contagious disease that strikes even the most vigilant of chicken keepers. That disease is called Chicken Math.

The 10th Doctor and the TARDIS

Chicken Math is a disease that hinders your ability to properly count the number of chickens that you own or plan to own at any given time. You plan on only having 6 chickens and one day you wake up and you have 10…a year later you have 56 and you are not entirely sure what happened except that you somehow became a chicken hoarder.

If I had a TARDIS coop, I would spend all of my time constantly opening and closing the door hoping that my coop would suddenly be bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. I’d make an excuse that we needed at least one chicken named Ameilia or Martha or Rose….and before you know it, we’d have all three of them, plus Donna, Wilfred, and Sara Jane Smith!

Nope – in Pleasant Hill we’ll just stick to our functional coops and leave the Tour d’ Cooping for everyone else. After all, Stephen and mine’s carpentry skills are not that advanced – but we still enjoy looking at everyone else’s creative cooping!

History, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog, This Old House

Living in the White House

Living in a white house is like wearing a white shirt to a cookout….its going to get dirty, something dripped on it, and eventually things are going to start looking dull.

The White House has been quite dull for quite a while, its last paint job being well over 10 years ago. After countless storms, winter slush, and a particularly nasty hail storm – that really did a number on our cars – it was in desperate need of a touch up.

Pre-PaintingSo this summer, we scrapped and painted the old white house, and let me tell ya – it’s looking good these days.

My Poppaw is a firm believer that everything – and I literally do mean everything – can be done with the aid of a tractor. So instead of using a good old trusty ladder….we used a front end loader.

Just beam me up Stephen!

I, however, found a much more suitable use for the tractor. It’s surprisingly comfortable and cozy….as long as you don’t mind getting red dirt all over your clothes.

In reality, I only spent about half an hour making myself at home in my new favorite nap spot. While Stephen and Poppaw were busy painting the back side of the house, I worked on scrapping the front bannisters.

Let me go ahead and say….any paint scraping by hand ends up being a lot of work with very little benefit to show for your efforts. Plus, you end up with a load of paint chips stuck in your hair and on your face.

So why waste all that time scraping away? Why not just use a common heat and chemical paint remover? Well, there are two really good reasons.

One – we didn’t want to light our house up like a bonfire on a chilly October night. After much research, we discovered that quite a few common chemical paint removers are highly flammable, and solid wood homes of a certain age – like ours – tend to catch on fire.

Two – our chickens do not, sadly, lay golden eggs. The non-flammable water based paint removers are a bit pricey, and were way outside of the budget. We loved our house enough to spruce it up and make sure that we didn’t burn it down in the process, but not enough to go broke on.

The old white house looks a world better these days – almost like a new. There are still some needed repairs to the front porch, but its nice knowing that our major summer project is out of the way and that we are no longer embarrassing the neighbors.

bees, honey, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog

oh honey, honey…

We spent a hot, happy July 4th doing something entirely new and different.

This year we extracted honey from two of our three bee hives. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect…beyond getting sticky…but it ended up being a lot of fun.

honey frames

Stephen began the morning suited up in his bee suit and retrieved two hive supers from hives Barney One and Barney Two. Being terrified of the “Barnies,” I faithfully stayed inside and ate a bowl of cereal and watched an episode of Leave it to Beaver.

We set up our honey extracting operation on the  back porch, using a honey extractor from our local agricultural extension office. As Stephen brought in the honey frames, I would cut the wax cappings off of the honey comb.

once the cappings have been removed

Two frames at a time are loaded into the extractor, which is turned until all of the honey has been pulled from each side of the honey comb. Extracted honey then pools into the bottom of the extractor where it is allowed to drain into a bucket strainer system.

Frame in the extractor before being turned

Stephen turning the extractor and honey draining into the bucket

Wax cappings are left to drain over cheesecloth for the afternoon. Once they are sufficiently drained we will run the extra honey through the bucket strainer and the cappings will  be rendered into refined bees wax.

Once the honey has been strained of any impurities (extra  pollen, dead bees, and honeycomb) it is ready to be bottled. Stephen attributes the dark color of our honey to the local yellow poplar trees, clover, and sour wood trees that his bees have been frequenting.

As far as taste goes, its good. The honey has a mildly floral scent and a pleasant sweetness. Its not overpowering or sickly – its just nice. And this assessment is coming from someone that doesn’t really like honey all that much.

We spent from nine in the morning until nearly midnight to complete the entire process – but it was time well spent, once again carrying on a Pleasant Hill bee keeping tradition. We did a lot of hard work, had a lot of good fun, and ended the day with a final product that we can be proud of.

chickens, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog, This Old House

Don’t forget to remember

As spring moves on to summer our chores seem to be piling up, up, up. And over the course of the last few weeks we have experienced much change in the white house.

For starters, the white house is now white again. After two weeks of painting the old place looks somewhat new…sort of. The baby chickens have graduated up to the big coop. We have been on “nesting box duty.” We’ve adopted a new hive of bees, and said goodbye to a familiar face around the  barnyard.

Penfold, my little American Game, has decided to go broody, and she is going to sit on her nest come hell or high water.

The box is empty. Penfold doesn’t care – she’s sitting there anyway. I stick my hand in with treats trying to tempt her out of the box. Penfold doesn’t care – she’s sitting there anyway. Andy comes in to oust her off the nest and join the others foraging (Penfold’s favorite activity). Still, Penfold doesn’t care – she is sitting there anyway.

Penfold attempting to reclaim the eggs we took from her nest.

So, several times a day Stephen or I tromp across the soggy pasture to take her out of the box and shoo her away to do something, anything else. It’s taken a few weeks, and there have been occasional set backs, but we think Pen is over this spell of motherhood, which is really better for all of us.

The little chickens are slowly integrating into the big flock, and things are going much better than the last time. Zillah has proven herself to be an adventurous and brave soul – venturing forth to eat with the big chickens, taking a shot at finding her place on the hen house roost, and taking up for her much more timid sisters.

Zillah & Quigley


Quigley and Danger are doing pretty good through this whole process, though they are much more cautious. Flannery, our head hen, has been quite kind to the little girls….offering them a safe place to perch next to her on her self made throne. Most of the others ignore the little girls, unless food is involved. The current flock shake down is that Charlie hates Zillah, and Penfold despises Quigley….and somehow Danger has managed to fly under the radar.

One troublesome thing that has arisen over the last week has been Mini’s behavior. We’ve been surprised at the amount of aggression that he’s shown towards the little girls, and it has had both Stephen and I concerned. Over the last few months we have observed that Mini’s behavior has often left the hens stressed out and grumpy. We’ve questioned our decisions with our flock management, and have been seriously considering what the best options for the overall flock dynamic might be.

Last night as the chickens went to bed Mini kept repeatedly pecking Zillah in the head. Tonight, Stephen witnessed the same thing and in our minds a firm decision was made. With a heavy heart, we’ve said goodbye.

Mini is gone.

Stephen wrote this to me tonight. I want to share it, because it reflects the reality and pain that comes along with being a chicken keeper.

It was horrible. Mini deserved a much better death than he got. It took me a long time, it was awful. If we ever have to kill another chicken, then we are taking it to the processing plant. I can’t stand to see them suffer like that and know it is my fault. I hope this fixes many of the problems with the flock, so that Mini didn’t die for nothing.

It may be weird to apply Mill’s ethics of the greater good to flock life, but it is part of the cruelty we face as their keepers. We are part of that flock whether we think so or not, and we are responsible for their lives and well being.

I still love Mini, and maybe his end deserved its own entry; but I felt that his story was so entwined with the changes and upheavals of the flock that it should be told together. He was Penfold’s closest friend, he was Zillah’s biggest fear, he was Andy’s nemesis. He was a good chicken, but a mean rooster.

bees, chickens, garden, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog

Afternoon fun

With the weekends jam packed, we spend most afternoons working on various things around the farm. New plants, new chickens, new bees, new paint (which still needs to go on the old house)…..the list of chores is never ending, but we still find time to have a little bit of fun.

Little chickens are growing up!
Zillah, Quigley, and Dangerfield
Quigley likes to hop up for a snuggle
Lots of lettuce ready for the picking
Gotta smoke those bees
Bee suites are for protection
Bees need more gear than chickens!
bees, garden, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog

Some New Friends

This past weekend, we brought home some new friends—thousands of them to be exact. We traveled up to Moravian Falls, NC, to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm to adopt two nucs of bees. Nucs (short for nucleus colonies) are like starter-kits for beehives.  Each nuc has several frames of brood, honey, pollen, lots and lots of bees, and, most importantly, a fully functional queen bee. You simply move the frames over from the portable nuc box into your hive and hope you don’t crush the queen in so doing. So far, our bees seem pretty happy, and as an official beekeeper, with all total a week of beekeeping experience, here are a few of my sage observations on bees and beekeeping:

a nuc

1) There are lots of newcomers to beekeeping, like me. At Brushy Mountain, over half of the people who attended the nuc installation class were new to beekeeping (of course, experienced beekeepers would probably skip the class). It was also interesting to notice the diversity of the class, at least in terms of men and women, young and old. Some attendees were wearing flip-flops and shorts, some Carharts and boots, some capris and ankle bracelets; most of us, though, were wearing veils.

the nuc installation class
that's me with the white jacket and blue jeans

2) Bees are heavy. Okay, one bee doesn’t weigh very much, but moving thousands of bees crawling all over honey-soaked frames in a wooden box can give your back a workout.

Getting ready to open the nuc for the first time
Ahh! What have I gotten myself into!

3) Finding the queen bee in the hive is like finding Waldo in a Where’s Waldo Book, only more difficult because the queen bee is always moving.

looking for the queen

4) It doesn’t take bees long to get to work. Within an hour or so, foraging bees were returning to the hive with their back legs loaded down with bright orange pollen. I think they were gathering pollen and nectar from some nearby Chinese Privet bushes, though it’s hard to track a flying bee because they zoom around so quickly.

bees coming and going and learning their new environment

6) It’s a new age in beekeeping. Apparently, in years gone by, beekeeping (or keeping bees alive) was a lot simpler. Now, a variety of pests target honeybees. Emptying the nuc box, I noticed one of those pests, a small hive beetle, scurrying around in the bottom of the box. The little beetle looked innocent enough, but I know its larvae can cause major mayhem. The varroa mite (a.k.a. Varroa destructor) is by far the most worrisome pest for hobby beekeepers. It spreads all sorts of honeybee diseases and gorges on bee larvae. A few days after installing the hives, I checked for varroa mites. The hive had a few, but nothing to be too concerned about at this point. Most hobby beekeepers haven’t had much problem with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which has made lots of headlines in recent years. This seems to be a problem prone to larger, commercial bee operations. In any event, a lot of new pests are making beekeeping much more challenging. To keep the pests in check, I’m going to avoid using synthetic pesticides and try several more natural methods. Wish me luck.

garden, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog

Weather Roulette

Ugh, the weather these days. In Shelby, March was one of the warmest on record. People have been cutting grass for over a month, planting gardens (some of which already have corn stalks a foot high), and sneezing their heads off because everything is blooming early. Still, I didn’t take the bait. I diligently looked up the average last frost date for Shelby, April 14, and planned months ago to set out my young heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and peppers a few days after that. And so I did.

Now, on the morning of April 24, 2012, we set a new record low for all April 24s in recorded meteorological history: 34° F.  This previous record was held by April 24, 1893.

The official temperature is taken five feet above the ground, and since cold air sinks, the temperature at ground level is colder, say, 32° F.  Of course, at 32 ° F frost forms and sure enough patchy frost covered the ground this morning. I didn’t want one of those patches to settle on and kill my plants, so last night the garden looked like an army of misfit boxes and flower pots in ranks across the field, protecting the plants. As far as I can tell, my plants came out unscathed, but my truck didn’t, as I put a small but deep scratch on it when I was backing up in the dark to return from the garden. Ugh.

On a brighter note, meteorologists are forecasting a cooler summer for the southeast because of El Nino.

Natalie was a little upset I used our good beach towels.
garden, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog

Now Spring Has Clad The Grove In Green

Now spring has clad the grove in green,
And strew’d the lea wi’ flowers;
The furrow’d, waving corn is seen
Rejoice in fostering showers

– Robert Burns

Spring is always full of new things and the most vibrant shades of green. Despite the sniffles, sneezes, and itchies…..this spring is particularly exciting. There are lots of new things taking place and growing up around the farm – there’s never a dull moment and always plenty to do.

We are adding three new chicks to our flock this year.

Dangerfield – Golden Cuckoo Marans

Zillah – White Plymouth Rock

Quigley – Easter Egger

We’ve got over 200 new blubs of garlic growing in the garden….plus over 200 onions….and at least 100 carrots.

Not to mention all of the new tomatoes, squash, watermelons, and peppers at the house waiting for their day to move to the big garden.

New leaves on the apple trees.

And the house….waiting for new paint.

chickens, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog

Where do we go from here? a chicken saga – part 2

It has been several weeks since the chicken smack down of the century. In some ways we have made enormous and unbelievable gains….and in other ways we are still so far from my ideal resolution.

The day after the big fight we let everyone out into the pasture as usual – really just hoping that the extra space would give the boys a chance to cool down and gain some perspective…..Stephen and I being part of the “gaining perspective” crowd ourselves. Things seemed to go ok –  Mini kept his distance for the most part, but Andy was still determined to not loose his new found place in the world. And honestly, I couldn’t blame him.

As the day wore on and grew darker, we waited for all of the chickens to go up to roost. We grabbed our flashlights, walked through the pasture, and opened the coop door. The site that met our eyes made our hearts sink. There were only six chickens on the roost, Mini was no where to be found.

Exile is hard on anyone, but especially hard on a former leader. As we combed the barn and pasture with no success, I eventually saw a little bit of white on the ground next to the fence in a pile of leaves. It was Mini – just laying there. He hadn’t even bothered to go back to the coop for the night, he had simply given up.

We took Mini back to the house, gave him some food, and set him up in the dog crate for the night, hoping he’d have a little more spark by morning.

Spark….looking back these days I rather think I had wished for gracious humility instead of spark.

As the weeks progressed, Mini returned back to the coop, and Stephen and I found ourselves spending more and more of our free time doing what we called “chicken therapy.” Andy eventually allowed Mini back into the flock, but he still threw his weight around, literally all 11 pounds of it. Despite the occasional knockabout, things had become more peaceful than even our hopes anticipated.

But, that brings us back to gracious humility…and the wrong rooster’s lack of it.

Andy has really been quite a surprise to us, and in some ways he always has been. He’s done a remarkable job at taking care of the hens and he’s never shown the least amount of aggression towards us – even when we pick him up, which he doesn’t like very much. He’s proved to be both calm and fair minded, sometimes a rare trait in a head rooster.



Mini, on the other hand, is  back to his old self….which means he’s back to biting and flogging, and we are the lucky recipients. It hurts and I don’t like it. I had hoped, perhaps dumbly, that this particular aspect of his personality had changed, but I’m not sure you can break what is inherently part of his genetic makeup.

So, here we are. We have two roosters….and where do we go from here?

I’d like to think that I don’t have an answer to this question, but if I’m being honest I probably do. I’m hurt and disappointed, I want things to be different. I want Mini to feel the same about me as I do about him; but he’s a chicken and he’s not supposed to, and he feels about me exactly the way he should. And that doesn’t make either of us right or wrong….and that is what makes the situation so hard.

So, here we are. We have two roosters….and that’s how it’s going to be for awhile, but probably not how it’s going to be forever. And, just like it took Mini awhile to get his confidence back, it’s going to take me awhile to get used to the fact that it’s not going to be both Mini and Andy forever.