Archive for May, 2010

Gratitude

The weather has finally warmed up around here, and the hills are beginning to slowly shift to a gentle golden color. We’ve spent most of this week assembling our chicken run (hopefully we’ll be done by tonight), and it has been so fun to watch our eight girls learning how to become hens. Their chick peeps morph every once in a while to a sound that Rob has aptly nicknamed “proto-cluck.” They’ve grown bigger in two weeks than I could have ever imagined. And all around our homestead seems to whisper: “Life.”

I can’t help but be filled with a deep sense of gratitude. Gratitude for the friends we’ve made up here so far, gratitude, for the land, gratitude for the animals in our care. Underneath all of it is the ever-present awareness that none of it is really “ours,” but I feel so lucky that we have been entrusted with this little space of earth and life for this small amount of time. I intend to do right by everything that has been put under my care. I intend to do my best in helping it to fulfill as much potential as possible.

We’ve now been in this home for six months. Hard to believe–it seems like only yesterday that we were pulling furniture out of snow-covered trucks. The more we do with the land, and the more we expand our family (we arrived with cats, then added a dog, then bees, now chickens…what will be next?), the more I feel like this is exactly where we were meant to be.

Take, for example, this fine sight:

It’s good to be home.

Forward Momentum

I realize I haven’t posted any recent pictures of our garden. It’s hard to believe, looking back, that this used to be just a flat plot of earth in our yard. To be honest, I don’t know if we would have had the courage to complete the task if we had known how much work it would be from the outset! But now it’s bringing us so much joy–with our kale really beginning to come in, as well as freshly planted onions, leeks, spinach, parsley, and carrots–we love spending time out there. We’ve also put in a potato patch nearby with both blue and white potatoes. Our fruit trees and grape vines are also beginning to really look lively. What an abundance!

So here is the latest in our gardening adventure. As you can see, we finished our boxes and got a good mix of green manure, compost, and native soil mixed in to each box. We installed an irrigation system and laid gravel in around the boxes and on top of the irrigation lines in between the boxes. We painted the fence and lined it with hardware cloth so rabbits and other small critters couldn’t squeeze through the pickets. Then we planted all sorts of lovely flowers along the perimeter of the fence to entice our bees. What a lucky girl I am–on the weekends or in the evenings, Rob and I will sometimes just go outside and gaze at the gentle wind blowing through this bed of new life, hosted by the work of our hands.

I can’t wait until the day when we can make two stops–the garden and the coop–and then go inside to prepare dinner. That, my friends, will be a joyful day in the Guzzo household.

By the way, chickens are doing well. We have started to assemble their run, and hope to have it done by this weekend. The chickens are growing so fast–they’ll be glad to be out of their garage pen, I’m sure!

Perfectly Formed

This is a piece of burr comb that we recently took out of the hive before we added a second super (which is another box with frames inside it). Burr comb is wax comb that is made in empty spaces–in this case, they had made it when the sugar water ran low and they found the empty space inside the feeder too enticing. As you can see, they had already started putting pollen in some of the comb (the purple and yellow).

What struck me about the comb was how perfect it was. Each little “bee space” was perfectly formed. It was delicate, powerful, and beautiful.

We’re hoping to be able to melt this down a little bit to make a small candle. Not sure if it will work, but I’m hoping to get my candle-making skills up to par soon. I’ll admit that I will be a little sad to melt this down, but it also seems right to recycle it into something that can be used and appreciated. I’ll think of the perfection of bee-work every time I light that candle.

The bees themselves are doing great. Very active, and lots of capped comb last time we looked. In our last inspection, we actually saw the queen (she’s marked with a dot to help us locate her and be extra careful), made sure she was laying eggs, and assessed the overall health of the hive. Everything seems to be going well. I bet the bees are loving all of our wildflowers around here; it’s my guess that very soon we’ll be taking the top feeder off of the hive.  We’ll have a better sense of it this weekend when we do our next inspection.

So many exciting things going on–and in the midst of it, I continue to work hard at seminary. I’m commuting down twice a week for an 8am class, which is tiring. But the class is so exhilarating that the long commute seems worth it. I’m always excited to come home and share the day’s lessons with Rob over dinner. And my professor is intimidatingly brilliant. I feel blessed.

Everything’s a balance, I suppose. I try to balance all of the excitement of the homestead–and the work of it–with school, with preparing for my own work as a speaker and writer, with my health, with the daily chores that are necessary to keep the household going smoothly. It’s not by my own strength that I can do it, either. Thank God for God!

Chasin’ Chicks

My uncle has had a long history of picking up my younger brother (who has special needs that keep him at a cognitive level of around 7 or 8 years old) and taking him out for some “guy time.” Usually they will go somewhere and have lunch, visit the toy store, and maybe see a movie. But when they come home and we ask what they did to have fun, my uncle always replies with a grin: “Oh, we were just out chasin’ chicks.”

Well, Rob and I have decided to really chase chicks. As in, eight of them–five-week-old pullets that we got after a long time dreaming, reading, and researching and a short time actually making the decision.  Last Friday, I walked into our local Hay and Feed store to check out some other things they had. There they were–the last of the spring chicks that had been for sale in the store over the last month or so. There were only about thirty left. In the giant, peeping tub were two different breeds: the popular Rhode Island Red, a dependable layer of light brown eggs, and the barred (some might consider it “striped”) Cuckoo Maran, known for laying dark chocolate colored eggs. I asked the lady at the counter how long she thought they’d last. “Not through the weekend,” she sighed almost wistfully. “People have been snapping them up, and these are the last of them.”

I got on the phone to Rob. A list of verbal pros and cons were discussed. They weren’t day-old chicks, which meant they wouldn’t need the intensive care of very young chicks (temperature control, for one). And since they were five weeks old, they would be laying by September. It also meant we could have them outside in the coop by Memorial Day, when we would be gone for three days in New Jersey. It would be easier to let a neighbor take care of them. On the other hand, the coop wasn’t near ready to house hens. There was no door, no lid for the roosting box, no run, and the inside needed a good once-over. We’d have to put in a lot of work in a little time.  And besides, were we ready? This would make the homestead…well, much more of a “real” homestead. We’d have chickens, for goodness sake.

But in the end, the chicks won. I picked up four Rhode Island Reds and four Cuckoo Marans, bought a 30-gallon tub (which I quickly learned was too small), some wood shavings, and some feed. I brought them home and tenderly set everything up. I whispered a “welcome” to our newest ladies.

This weekend we undertook the job of getting the coop chicken-ready; that way, even if we didn’t have the run ready for a week or two, we could transition them to their new, bigger digs after this cold spell passes (a freak mid-May snowstorm, ugh).  So here’s what we started with:

We swept the inside free of inches of oak leaves and other crud, added a roosting bar, and put in a little ladder up to the roosting boxes. Then we pached the hole under the boxes with a plank of plywood, added a lid and lock to the roosting nests, and added dutch doors (since there is no ventilation built into the coop, we’ll open the top door for now, and hope to add an inner screen door as well). The wood is quite old, so we’re not sure how long this coop will last, but hopefully it will give us a few good years before we need to start from scratch. We’ll paint the whole thing in the next few days, but for now we just painted the exposed wood and added some weather stripping to the door. Here’s what we ended up with:

As for the chicks, they’re doing great. They’re quite entertaining, and I think they’ll have a wonderful life here. Our hope is to let them out into their run during the day, and when we’re home we’ll let them pasture our property in a little portable pen we’ve picked up. The goal here isn’t just about eggs (or possibly meat) for our family. The goal is a dual one: it’s to give back as much as we get. Even though we’ll be getting eggs, I want to give these chicks a shot at a wonderful life. I want to support the home-grown, local movement as much as possible–and this is the ultimate in that support. I want to give our friends and family a chance to really get what “from farm to fork” means.

Plus, it gives Sugar a new job: she’s the official chicken-guarder. So far, she’s doing pretty well.

Spring has Sprung

So much is happening around the homestead, and I feel privileged to watch Spring unfold. My favorite time is early Saturday morning, when Rob and I wake up early, make coffee, and go out to greet the land as the sun rises.  Spring has not been gentle so far; the weather can swing from a warm sunny day in the 70s to the threat of snow within just twelve hours. But we are approaching the time when the threat of frost has past, when all of our seedlings can go into the ground, and when we can embrace each moment of these longer days with the giddiness of children.

The flowers here are extraordinary. I’ve never seen wildflowers like this. There are also an abundance of different types of grasses and ground cover. The diversity gives hints to a picture larger than any human could have ever designed–but, of course, we knew that already! The dandelions are the most extraordinary to me. They lift their faces to the sun and follow it like a puppy might. Rob once said to me, “A weed is just something you don’t want growing there.” And, for the most part, we’ve made an unspoken pact that the only things that might be considered “weeds” on our homestead are things that grow in the food beds. Sure, our grass isn’t perfectly mowed. Sure, it doesn’t look perfect. But it’s beautiful to us, nonetheless.

Here are just a few glimpses of the various happenings around Tehachapi and our land:

The dandelions at a local ranch always tilt their faces to the sun

These purple wildflowers are so striking in person

 

Our new laundry line saves us money and makes our clothes smell great!

Our new potato patch--we'll have both white and purple potatoes!

There’s also some exciting farm updates and bee updates…I’ll post more on that soon. 🙂