Thursday, July 26, 2012

Snakes on a Farm

Nothing will make you have to change your underwear faster than opening up the worm compost bin and finding a snake inside.  Apparently, I shrieked like a little girl before I called for Colin, our much more manly houseguest, to come and catch it.  Its interesting to get to be part of a more natural cycle of life when you choose to take even a small step out of our consumer grocery store lifestyle and try something as simple as letting worms eat your garbage.  We don't throw our spoiled food in the garbage, we let the worms eat it, then the worms attracted a mouse (which I noticed in our bin numerous times), the mouse then attracted this beautiful California Kingsnake! Yet another reason NOT to use poison for rodent control! There is no such thing as poisoning just rodents, everything that eats them gets poisoned too, which eventually makes your property a dead zone.  When things are in balance, you might have some rodents, but you'll also get snakes, owls and hawks to keep them in check. Let nature do the work and we will hopefully will have less mice, better compost and more fun animal encounters.

I might have shrieked, but Camille is one brave little girl

Forget kittens, these girls want a pet snake
Colin having a moment, thanks for catching it buddy!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How to kill a rat

If you are like us an into organic gardening you might be more than a little hesitant to run to HomeDepot and stock up on rat poison. With cats, dogs, kids and the occasional barn owl, we can't justify/risk having nuertoxic poison laying about.  Last summer we noticed our tomatoes and cucumbers getting nibbled or completly stolen, we have unearthed rat's nest (complete with babies in our compost pile) and seen plenty of poop in corners, underneath our lawn mower and other disturbing places. Let's face it, rats are everywhere. They aren't a stigma of poverty. Your suburbia strip mall, complete with Starbucks and Trader Joe's, has rat bait stations all around, you just not looking for them or don't know what it is.

I have heard for every rat you visibly see, there are 50 more.  That is a frightening statistic.  When we first moved in, I watched a rat chase a Gopher snake out of a bush.  I should have known then we were in for trouble!  So the question remains, how do you effectively control rats without poison?

RIP Max...wherever you are. Tiger Lily (right), more lily than tiger.

Method #1- Cats- Our cats are somewhat prissy and feminine and aren't the big mean tomcats that could easily dispatch a fully grown rat.  I recommend getting a male kitten and not neutering him (i  know, i know, but you gotta keep that testosterone following).  The purchase of our farm came complete with such a tomcat, who was an excellent hunter of rats, gophers, even rabbits.  This was in part because we didn't realize he was ours and weren't feeding him. Once we realized he was ours, we made the mistake of neutering him, shortly after, he disappeared. My wife blames coyotes, but I feel that had he had an intact manhood, he could have stood up to any coyote. He was like a bobcat, his neck was thicker than my bicep and his head was like a kids bowling ball.

Method #2- Owls- Apparently a nesting pair can take up to 3,000 rodents in a single breeding season!  Needless to say, I built owl boxes.  I still have hope that owls will move in, but one box is already full of bees, and you can't rush owls.  I've been trying to make the remaining box as romantic as no avail.

Method #3- Removing Habitat- we had iceplant ground cover and other thick/dense shurbs that was ideal cover for rats. We noticed most of our tomatos were being lost and nibbled closest to these shurbs. I have seen Ground Squirrels eating iceplant and figure its a water source during our dry California summers.   Getting rid of it and planting California natives instead has helped.  Turning our compost regularly keeps momma rats from setting up nests too.

Method #4-Traps...not for the faint of heart. Buying a trap, baiting them with peanut butter (buy a jar strictly for traps, let's no mix our PB&Js and rat control together) and leaving it out does not guarantee a rat. You gotta think like a rat. Rats scurry along the bases of fences, alongside your house and other walls.  You'll hardly ever see a rat run across open space. So your traps need to be set perpendicular to walls, fences, etc.  That means the peanut butter bait butts up to your wall, this way a rat coming from either direction will find it.

You can buy all sorts of traps. I have had luck with them all. Even the quintessential cheap $2 traps, although these are so light and pack such a spring loaded punch I have screwed them to a heavier board to keep them in place when the spring shut (this increases the chance of it actually snapping on the rats neck).  I don't recommend the sticky traps because then you have to deal with a live rat if you catch it.  I have a friend that claims he had a sticky trap with a chewed off tail and foot, it seems like a quick broken neck is more humane.
A well used traditional trap along our fence,
 notice the dense brush is good rat habitat
This traps runs about $6 and is easy to arm,
placed along a garden bed wall 

With traps you have to move them around, rats are smart, if they spring one and get away they get wary and won't come back to it.  I also try and wear gloves and touch them as little as possible to keep human smells off it and rat germs off me.

**But what to do with a dead rat?  I hate the idea of a dead rat decomposing in my trash can and stinking it up to high heaven.  So I dig a hole, 8 inches will do, cover it up and squirt it with the hose to seal up all the dirt and keep the dogs from finding them. Plus it adds some nutrients back into the soil.

When it comes to rat control, we have employed all these techniques and it seems to be helping. We try and pick our tomatos before they fully ripen, but we still see nibbles out of vegetables from time to time, but these just go to the goats and chickens instead of the kitchen.  If you have any other good techniques, I welcome a comment, as I am always trying to improve my odds.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer of the Volunteer

Our garden has been slightly disappointing this summer. We're experiencing some crop fail due to one or more of the following:
a. gophers
b. fusarium wilt   
c. root knot nematode (of which BJ promptly made up a song about)
d. some soil deficiency
e. one of the other million problems that can affect tomatoes. 

But what hasn't failed us are the plants that have sprouted up due to falling fruit from past seasons, or our compost. These are what one would call a "volunteer". And they have been awesome.
We've got tons and tons of tomato volunteers, of different varieties. 
These volunteers need no tomato cages. They're happy to sprawl out wherever they can, letting their fruit hang out in the wind. 
They grew up in wily places, like in between our asparagus beds, siphoning off water and curling up the feathery asparagus leaves. 

And the most impressive volunteers of all? A mysterious pumpkin, producing what some visitors have named Big Bertha, and her man, and their love child. 

So thanks, volunteers, for saving our summer crop. Although you make us feel slightly inadequate as we try and grow nicely cultivated rows that fail, we appreciate your unbridled fruitfulness, and will definitely partake in your abundance. Please share with us the secret of such strong growth. 

"This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how" -St. Mark

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Backpacking and Pedicures

The Blough Family went on their first overnight backpacking trip which was long overdue. We set off for the San Mateo Wilderness in the northern section of the Cleveland National Forest and camped at Fisherman's Camp which decades ago served as a wintertime steelhead trout anglers paradise. The girls were so excited to set out fully equipped with kid backpacks, American Girl Dolls, bathing suits and plenty of water.

We were quickly overcome with 90 degree weather and spectacular views of chaparral covered mountains as far as the eye could see. As we descended the mountain I was seized with joy and was giddy to share this "religious" experience with my girls. When we approached our campsite with tired anticipation the stream was  bone dry. After a brief time of lamenting this reality we set off to explore and set up camp. Camille quickly learned how to poop in the woods with the ease of politicians lie. We explored together and watched the night approach with the sporadic and mysterious lure of little brown bats, and restless kids. I had the perfect solution for kids about to argue. Knives. Of course, kids love knives and parents love peace so I gave the girls a quick lesson in knife safety and some timeless strategies on whittling sticks into sharp kid friendly weapons. The girls loved it and Kim went back to reading teen fiction on her Nook and I went back to watching bats fly by in their drunken majesty. Peace transcended onto the camp and the shavings of willow bark flew onto Josephina's coarse doll hair with the soft, systematic sound of a slightly dulled knife in the hand of a child.

Lets fast forward to the following weekend in Palm Springs. The girls loved backpacking and pleaded to stay another night in our dry riparian oasis but everybody knows a pool at a proletariat resort sure as hell beats dirt. Here is the family checking into the Saguaro at Palm Springs with the Groupon receipt in hand.

As the girls sipped Shirley Temples next to the pool side bar with the rhythmic beats of the DJ in the background the lure of nature faded into oblivion. The party was on! Beautiful people scantily dressed and rippling with muscles and other human characteristics walked around the pool with drinks in hand. Kids splashed and we stretched out on lounge chairs with iced lemon apple water, ceviche and dark chocolate almonds.  The dry creek bed could not be further from our minds and stomachs.

The girls had scraped grout all week with me in our new bathroom and saved up enough money for a pedicure and manicure. They pleaded with me to get one with them and I told them I was scared to put my weathered feet into the warm bath of a strangers foot tub. Plus, lets be honest I am not exactly the pedicure manscaping type. I don't shave any part of my body, I shovel bird and goat shit and wear unlabeled jeans. Well my resistance was really effective against the Socratic Sirens of the 3 beautiful females in my family. So lets chalk up another one for a life of inconsistencies.

As I read A Thousand Splendid Suns and learn about women forced into marriage wearing veiled burqas I gaze out the windows to see bikinis and fake body parts. As I relax poolside stuffing my face I reflect on world starvation. As I farm Radio Acres with organic ambitions I drive 23 miles to Alpine to work. As I come home from bible study and learn about a Jesus of peace I argue with my wife. Backpacking and Palm Springs. Little brown bats fly majestically over tourists in Palm Springs. The reality of life is inconsistency. So sit back, relax, stress out and enjoy having your feet in the warm water of life's inconsistencies. As the 109 degree temperatures soar outside I crank up the AC. The blessings of life are everywhere.

Bathroom #3

It's hard to believe that we've actually built two bathrooms at the farm at this point. The posts on the first one can be found here and here. Bathrooms are always my favorite part of the house for so many reasons. A: They are so intricate and you pack so much into such a small space. They really are the most complex room in the house (well, maybe that and the kitchen) B: They are fun to create and lay out C: Face it - sitting on the pot and showering are two of life's leisures and you should enjoy them D: Do you need more reasons?

Here are some pictures of the different stages...

The Carter's finishing up the cement board installation
Jeremy working on the grout
The final product
Looking toward the toilet and sink
The tile and sink were all products of the Habitat for Humanity ReStore here in San Diego. The medicine cabinet (which you can't see) and the light were also salvage products from Jeremy's uncle in Arizona. The toilet, tub and faucets were the only things that were new. The toilet is an Aquia Toto II Dual Flush, the same one we had in our old house and installed in this house when we moved in. We've used it for years and already know we love it! It seriously saved so much water when we first made the switch in our old pad - 0.9 liters per flush if you use the small button. That's HALF what a normal water-saving toilet uses. I can also vouch for the fact that um, the small (#1) button does the job perfectly fine for everything I've ever seen go into it, if you get my drift. More pictures and posts of the rest of the construction coming soon!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Goat Eggs

Eggs have been disappearing at an alarming rate.  We used to get 10-12 a day. Now its down to Zero.  It started in May, oddly enough, this was also when we added some more members to our farm.  Snakes? Rats? Now we know.