Friday, May 27, 2011

Slug hunting season is IN.

Banana Slug, native to Pacific Northwest forests.
For anyone who lives in a dry climate, or one with cold winters, this is a slug.  Slugs are hermaphroditic mollusks that live in our temperate, moist forests.  However, a European variety was first discovered in 1933 in a Seattle garden, and this species has flourished to become the number one enemy of Northwest gardeners.  While I rarely find a native Banana slug in my garden, I spend time every day collecting European Red Slugs as they devour my precious plants.

Anouk gets paid 10 cents per slug, and we have had to fork out an alarming amount of money this season.  Unfortunately, I like slugs when they aren't eating my plants, and I hate killing them.  This was my main motivation for getting ducks.  Slugs are a yummy duck treat, and it provides a quicker death for the slugs than snipping or salting.  (They seem to take at least 10 minutes to die, even when snipped in half, and it looks miserable.)
This is Arion Rufus, the non-native variety.
Sometimes, I'll find 10 slugs eating a single plant.
Here is a very sad kale that has been ravaged by slugs.
This year, possibly because it has been so very wet, it seems like we are extra inundated.  Usually, after about a week of daily slug hunting, the numbers diminish significantly.  I collect them on wet evenings or after a rain shower, and I feel like they just keep coming by the bucketload.
My ducks can't keep up with the supply.  They gobble them down, but after too many, they start spitting them back up.  Last night, Mike drove a bucket up to some raw forest property and dumped them out for me.  It might be more humane, but it really isn't good for our ecology.

So, if you live in the area, it is important to know the difference between the beneficial Banana Slug and the invasive species.  Be brave and pick up a slug, let it slide over your hand, and talk to it.  They respond to voices and music, and they are fun to learn about and observe.  Did you know, if you lick a slug, your tongue will become numb?  How do I know this? 
I'n not thelling.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Crazy Comb

When I checked our new hive yesterday, I found that they had been hard at work building some Dr. Seuss-style architecture on the top of their frames.  (We have a top-feeder in the honey super right now, so there is room for them to construct a fantastic wax sculpture.)
I tried to find information online about what to do about this, if anything, but I only found a couple of references to "crazy comb" that did not include more information.  So, I once again harassed my friend Damian, who advised me to remove it.  Today Mike and I both suited up and I fired up the smoker (which goes out every time, so we use liquid smoke for back-up) and we carefully peeled the structure off.  This hive has been much more productive than our first one, and they already have comb built out to most of the outer frames.  We were excited to find that the part we scraped off has some honey in it, so we had our first tiny taste of honey produced by our own hives.

Next, we checked the established hive that we started last spring.  We have had a honey super on it for a year, but they aren't building comb in that at all.  Still, they have the hive body completely full of honey, and they appear to be healthy.  Hopefully, now that spring has sprung, they will spend the summer building on those frames and filling them with delicious honey.

A friend has been teaching me to make soap, and I plan to spend this year making more of it, plus lotions, balms, and candles, using our wax, herbs, and beneficial plants.  I'm actually considering reducing my mosaic production and turning part of the studio into space for making and storing products from our homestead.  We hope to invest in two more hive bodies by the end of summer so that we can either capture a swarm or purchase more bees next year.

Anouk had a friend sleep over last night, so I showed the girls the wax we took from the hive.  They were both fascinated, and happy to taste some honey straight from the source.  Keeping bees has been a rewarding challenge so far, and it ties together all that we are doing here on our little homestead.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Farm Update for late May

Each year, we face some kind of delay getting our garden planted and projects started, but it seems to always come together.  This spring has been very cold and dreary.  I even had to scrape my car windows on Monday morning!  My early attempts to seed greens resulted in no sprouts at all, so I tried again a few weeks later and got a few little starts, and now I feel pretty confident that the seeds I planted last weekend will be successful.

Luckily for us, Mike runs the Horticulture program at his school, so there are always plenty of starts available if we can't pull it together.  Also, our best friends own a nursery, ( so we lean on them when our luck runs out.

Right now, I'm working most days while Anouk is in school, so I'm up by 6am to get all of us ready and off to school, then I drive the long commute to the job site, and put in about 4 hours of work before I race back to her school to pick her up.  After school, we run errands and I try to accomplish some important task at home, like cleaning, bill paying, and garden maintenance, before cooking dinner and putting her to bed.  I usually fall asleep during that process and I'm toast after that.

Two Black Rouen & Two Swedish Blue
In between those tasks, I tend to our animals.  Our ducklings grew to nearly full-size within a month, and they now live where our turkeys have lived in past years.  I failed to socialize them, so they run from me, but they are very easy to take care of, and we have been supplementing their feed with a steady supply of slugs.  They are gorgeous and fun to watch.

Our chicks are now about half grown, so I moved them to the main coop just the other day.  First, I put them in an adjacent enclosure for the afternoon so that they could introduce themselves to the established flock through the fence.
That evening, all of the chickens retired to the coop as usual.  The rooster was particularly loud, but not aggressive, and they have been happily cohabitating for three days now.  (Chickens will become very territorial if you put new in with old during the day, and they sometimes kill the newbies.)

When we get baby poultry, they spend the first couple of weeks in a plastic tub in a closet with a heat lamp.  Then I move them out to our original chicken coop, close to the house, in our old rabbit cage for extra security.  When they are ready, I move them out of the cage to have full range of the brooding coop until they are big enough to be out in a yard.  When I moved the chickens, I was able to release the baby turkeys from the hutch, so they now have a big coop to play in.  We did not go with a heritage breed this year, but I would have to write another long blog to explain why.  Next time I get a day to myself...

It has been a beautiful week, and today is predicted to be the best weather yet this spring, so I had better get off my butt and enjoy the sunshine.  I have plants to water, bees to check, and a car to pack full for the POSSCA Artist's Garage Sale taking place tomorrow.
Tomato and basil starts in the greenhouse, with cukes waiting in the tray.
Broccoli and cauliflower bed.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Installing a glass tile pool surround

In my last post, I expressed some concern that I may need to get a real job, as commissions have completely dropped off since last Fall.  Lo and behold, my tile setter friend, Frank Lynam, needed an extra hand in order to complete a large project by June.  So, I am working days as an assistant tiler, learning all about this particular large-scale installation.
We spent the first five days putting up the membrane, which is the orange part of the wall that wraps around.  This is a lap pool in the basement of a home that is built into a hillside.  The exterior wall is concrete.  The other walls are plaster.  The membrane will make the substrate impervious to dampness.  Also, since we are laying the tile in a brick pattern, there is no place to add an expansion joint, and the membrane will allow some give and take behind the tile.  Additionally, we will use a urethane grout made with ground glass instead of sand, which is more flexible.

That's Frank, one of the best tilers in our area.  He is extremely fastidious in his work, specializing in creative and challenging tile installations.  I am learning how to work without getting thinset all over my clothes and surroundings, and making sure everything is done to absolute perfection.  It's good for me.

This may look pretty straightforward, but check out how clean the joints are!  Frank is concerned that, since this is glass tile and the color is on the back, any meeting of thinset and grout will be visible with some careful examination.  So, we carefully install the tile with no thinset in the joints.  Also, this thick glass tile is difficult to cut without it shattering, so every cut is done so slowly, I sometimes wonder if I'm still moving the saw table.  The cuts result in a slightly ragged edge on front and back, so we then use 3 grades of metal files to make the back edge look precise through the glass, and make the front edge just as rounded and soft as the rest of the tile.  They end up looking like they were manufactured to that size.  The floor is not flush, so we have to cut every tile on the bottom row to make sure all of the lines are perfect as we continue to set rows up the wall.  It's a lot of measuring, cutting, filing, and fixing occasional mistakes.  Frank tells me he has tried to work with other assistants, but they quickly lose patience with the detail work.  I think my experience with mosaic is an advantage when approaching tile with such meticulous care.

So, although I have almost no time at all for the garden or studio right now, I'm earning money and learning some skills that may come in handy later, if I can ever land myself a big mosaic installation.  I have to admit, if I had my choice, those walls would be covered with undulating blue and green intersecting lines suggesting water, made of stained glass or tile.  Mmmm.