Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Picture Perfect Day

This morning, Brett and I took Pistol and Flash up to the Back Forty pasture, where we rode yesterday, to graze.  They’ve pretty much mowed down the donkey pasture and their weight is looking good.  I don’t think we will need to continue the alfalfa, which is stemy and coarse.  They dig for the leaves and leave the rest behind for the goats.

When Lucy saw them up in the top pasture, she threw a fit.

“Why do they get to go out?  Why?  Why?”

I turned to Brett and suggested letting them out as well, one by one, so we didn’t have a stampede on our hands.  Tex was waiting at the gate so l let him out first.  Lucy was miffed.

Tex cantered away, up toward the top pasture with Sage joyfully barking alongside.  I think she thought she was herding him but, really, she was just going along for the ride.  Tex jumped the stream and slid to a stop outside the Back Forty pasture fence.  I decided to let Tex into the pasture, since he and Flash were pasture mates and good friends.  I knew they would enjoy hanging out together.

As I approached, Tex walked slowly away and then turned to face me.  I didn’t have anything with me, no halter or lead rope.  I haven’t done liberty work with Tex in quite awhile but I tapped my shoulder and he walked over to me and lined himself up.  Together we walked to the pasture gate and I let him in.  The thing with liberty work is you want to reward the horse by taking him somewhere good.  Being let into the Back Forty was a huge reward for him.

Next we let Lucy out and then left the gate open for Luek, who was busy down at the fence line watching the others and not paying attention to the gate.  Brett had to get a halter and lead him out.   Once out the gate, Brett slid the halter off and Luek loped up to the others.  He settled under a large oak and got down to the work of grazing.  Brett spent some time visiting with him there.

Our property was meadow and marsh before the house was built in the 1980s.  The grass still grows lush and green in the spring; bluegrass, clover, and rye.  The horses rip at it greedily.  The morning air was full of the sound of ripping grass, chewing, and the occasional squeal from Pistol.  That mare loves boys.  Things were pretty peaceful, except for the moments when Lucy felt the need to draw attention to herself by being bossy or prancy, or both.

The neighbors enjoyed the view as well.  You can’t beat watching horses in a green pasture, loving life.  Unless you are a donkey on the wrong side of the fence.

Monday, April 27, 2020

A Tex Update

In addition to gardening, I continue to work with Tex.  I couldn’t be happier with him and our progress.

For the past few years, Tex has been hanging with Flash in one pasture, and the mares were in another pasture.  With the arrival of Luek, and the need to manage the seniors (Flash and Pistol) differently, we did some pasture shuffling.  As a result, Tex now hangs out in a pasture with Luek and Lucy.  This is the pasture that I clean, morning and night.  So, I have been working with Tex when I go into the pasture to clean. To earn a cookie, he needs to stand still — without flinching or stepping away — when I approach.  I can now walk up to him, at a normal pace, and scratch his withers while he stands still and looks at me with soft eyes.  He is shedding, so I spend some time rubbing off his loose hair while he crunches his cookie.  He is beginning to enjoy the grooming, instead of just tolerating it.  I’m not sure that he’ll ever be like Lucy who searches me out while I’m mucking, places her body between me and the muck cart, and expects a massage.  But, I’ll take this.

Sometimes, I take Tex out and groom him while he grazes on our native bluegrass and clover.  I haven’t had much time to ride, since I have been spending most of my time in the garden.  But, now the garden is where I want it to be, and I can ride.

Although we got Luek with the idea that he would be my horse, it is turning out that he is mostly Brett’s horse.  Brett has ridden him a couple times now and really likes him (who wouldn’t).  Luek is very solid, level headed, and not inclined to race off and do anything unexpected.  He and Brett enjoy playing silly games together and have definitely bonded.  Brett rides Luek in his western saddle and Luek looks stunning.  Of course, he looks stunning in anything.

Me?  I’d rather ride Tex.  I am enjoying this journey with him and the challenge of it too.  Luek isn’t a challenge to ride, other than the challenge of keeping him forward.  That, to me, isn’t fun.  I’ve always loved sensitive, forward horses.  Tex isn’t reactive like Lucy, and his biggest issue is relaxation and trust, but he is sensitive and we are making great progress.  I have learned that the journey of developing a horse is what I most love to do.

Brett has been mowing the back pasture this past week, which is not being used due to poor fencing issues, and it looks beautiful.  This morning, I opened the gate to the pasture before we rode.  After a short warm up in the arena, where Brett got more confident on Luek, we headed up into the beautiful meadow that is that pasture.

Even though I’m 60, I remember the feeling of racing around a meadow on horseback from when I was 17.  Back then, I was riding bareback and I slid off a fair amount, doing stupid stuff like trying to jump logs.  But it was a joyful, happy thing.  Tex is not an arena horse.  It makes him tense.  So, I thought he might enjoy a romp in the meadow.  He did.  We both did.  We worked on walk-trot transitions and he even offered me some canter.  We had fun.

And isn’t that the whole point, really?

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Projects: Garden

While Brett works on the fences, and Sage chases squirrels, I work in the garden.  I don’t think I have ever physically worked so hard in my life, other than swim team workouts when I was in college.

Ever since starting the Master Gardener course, I’ve been buried in self-imposed projects.  Every time I learn something new, which is every week, I run out to the garden and practice the new skill — I have ripped out all the drip lines and replaced them, hauled compost and shredded bark mulch to the fruit trees, and then — covered the entire garden in mulch.  Oh, and I’m trying hot composting which means turning a huge pile of manure and leaves every three or four days.  Do I have biceps?  You bet!

Am I complaining?  Not really.  Although my body aches, my mind is peaceful (except when reading the news) and content.  I am creating, and enjoying, the garden of my dreams.

The garden of my dreams is sustainable — a central tenet of being a Master Gardener.  It is not fussy. The plants are suited for this climate so they have low to moderate water needs, are disease resistant, and insect friendly (which brings birds and butterflies).  I probably fuss the most with the orchard but I’m hoping that, over time, as I get the water and fertilizer (just compost) dialed in, it will also become less work.  Also, as the trees mature, they will require less pruning.  The apples and pears are already pretty much there.  The peaches will always need a major haircut but the figs and cherries will need less as time goes by.  ...if I can just stop myself from adding more.

I was determined to finish all the heavy manual labor before summer because I do not function well at all in the heat.  It was a four part project.  1) replace/reconfigure the drip lines, 2) hand pull all the weeds, 3) put a layer of compost around the fruit trees, 4) cover everything with a 4” layer of shredded bark.  Now that the last bucket of weeds has been fed to the chickens, and the last load of mulch has been spread, I can focus on other, less strenuous, projects.

I’ve been moving my vegetables from the greenhouse out into the garden.  Normally, I would wait until Mothers Day but we are having a two week run of hot weather so I moved it up.  It’s the kind of thing I can do bit-by-bit.  It feels more like play, and less like work.  Drip lines, compost and mulch feel like work.

Right now, sitting in the hammock, I can smell the lilac as it drifts past me on a light breeze.  Finches and sparrows sing in the oak above me.  An occasional dove, blackbird or woodpecker chimes in too.  Sage sleeps underneath me.  It’s a pretty sweet life and I intend to spend as much time as possible enjoying it.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Projects: Sage

With spring warming the air and the soil, ground squirrels are emerging from their burrows and making their way from the blackberry brambles outside the fence into the pasture and toward the garden.  They typically have a dozens of burrows in the pasture by late spring and by summer they have invaded the entire property.

Fortunately, Sage is on patrol.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love tree squirrels; those grey bushy tailed acrobats who scurry and jump between the pines and the oaks.  It’s the ground squirrels who dig holes that the horses might trip (and break a leg in) and raid my garden that drive me nuts.  I don’t mind sharing my fruit and vegetables, but every year they take every stinking apple, plum, and tomato.

Last fall, Sage caught a squirrel and Kersey taught her how to kill it.  Since then, squirrels have become her passion.  About a week ago, she started catching them again. She catches them and then carries them around for hours, like a dead plush toy.  She doesn’t eat them.  We eventually are able to distract her with dinner — or she chases after another one, leaving the current “toy” behind — and we dispose of the slobber covered thing.

When Brett added wire to the pasture fence, he purposefully left access points for the dogs.

So far, I haven’t seen any squirrels in my garden.  Not one.  There is a rat that lives behind my tool shed and last year it dropped from the garage rain gutter and landed at my feet.  Talk about a Willard moment.  Sage and Kersey spent a couple days digging up the area under the work bench, next to the shed, trying to get the rat.  They made a huge mess.  I praised them.

Here is a video view of the pasture where Sage hunts the squirrels.  You can see her down at the fence line, sniffing around for varmits.   And the horses are way down toward the far end, eating dinner.  Sage tries to herd them to their feeder for dinner which is a joke.  The horses are always at the feeder at dinner time.

And, they herd her right back, more often than not (especially Lucy).  She’s better off sticking with  squirrels.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Projects: Brett

One thing about living on a ranch, there is never a shortage of projects.  The weather has been gorgeous this week, with an occasional puffy white cloud floating across clear blue skies, no-jacket-required warmth during the day and cold enough at night that it feels good to snuggle down deep under the quilt.  This weather begs us to be outside during the day and we’ve both been overdoing it with our projects.  Pacing is not a strong point for either of us.  And, we have always been competitive with each other so neither one of us will throw in the towel first.  I get mad at him when he overdoes it, and he chastises me when I do the same.  Do we learn?  No.

We’ve had a lot of rain in March and April so the stream is singing and the grass is growing.  And growing.  And growing.  The horses in the side pasture (we can’t decide what to call that pasture: the side pasture, the oak pasture, the long pasture, the shady pasture, the sloping pasture...sigh), have been taking advantage of the fact that there isn’t wire blocking them from the grass.  Lucy, also known as Gumby, gets down on both knees and reaches her neck under the bottom rail, to nibble at the grass.  Tex eats what he can reach without being a contortionist.  Luek just pushes against the bottom rail until it gives, and snaps.  Brett is really tired of fixing broken rails every morning.
Luek looking innocent.

Voilà! Brett has a project.  

I helped him unload the wire panels from his trailer yesterday.  As we pulled the panels out the back, let them bang onto the ground, and then dragged them into position next to the fence, Luek and Tex kept a safe distance.  Luek, who is pretty unflappable, snorted a few times.

Lucy, who is the most flappable horse I’ve ever met, stood at the fence with her head hanging over and didn’t even flinch.  Go figure.

Brett spent most of yesterday and all of today tacking up the panels.

It looks great and should save the fence rails.  The pasture with Flash and Pistol already has panels and/or wire and the rails there are rarely broken.  This project has been on the “to-do” list for a few years and Brett finally had enough with fixing all the broken rails.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Same Thing Everyday

Every morning, Brett asks me, “What are you going to do today?”  And every morning I say, “The same thing as yesterday.”  The days are always comprised of morning and evening chores: feeding the animals, cleaning the pastures, checking the fences (Brett), and checking the seedlings (Annette). Other than that, weather pretty much dictates what we do.  Days like today that are overcast, misty wet or raining, and cold keep us inside by the wood stove.  Brett reads a book.  I work on my paint by number canvas, do Master Gardener homework, or bake.  We might clean a bit.  But, when the temperature rises to the 50s and the rain stops, a typical ranch day looks like this.

The horses take turns napping.  Luek has turned out to be a great napper.  He stretches out completely and his lips flop open, showing his teeth.  Against his black face, the white teeth are startling and amusing.  He looks dead but he’s not.

I spend most of the day in my garden.  Brett splits wood or mows or fixes fences.  I weed and tidy the garden beds, spread compost and mulch, and work in the greenhouse.
Sorrel, violas, daffodils, iris, and artichoke all jumbled together.

The pansies are still going strong, the lettuce is looking leggy and tired, and my parsley is coming into its own.

I started extra vegetables for the Master Gardener plant sale which was cancelled.  The plant sale is the annual fund raiser for the demonstration gardens, so the cancellation was a sad, if necessary, thing.  I sent a few seedlings home with our farrier yesterday and have friends and neighbors who will take the rest of the extras.

I also started flowers: zinnia, aster, stock, cosmos, carnations and sunflowers.

Passage and Sage keep me company.  Passage follows me around while Sage comes and goes.  If Passage is getting attention, she comes.  If I’m working, she goes.  Passage is the more reliable companion.

The ranch is pretty green at the moment.  This next photo is taken from the front of the barn, looking towards the donkey pasture.  Their pasture usually also includes Canada geese, a mallard duck pair, and a handful of opinionated killdeer.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Garden Chronology

As I looked at the garden, from the kitchen window, this morning I thought about how far it has come.  When we moved onto the ranch, six and a half years ago, the “garden” looked like this:

And this morning it looked like this:

Needless to say, its been a lot of work.  I thought it would be fun to show a chronology of how we got from there to here, in photos.  Ready?

Brett built me a raised planter box

And I started clearing all the weeds; by hand, with a hoe.  It took forever.
Brett put in water lines; lots and lots of water lines

He also put in the chicken run and chicken shed — which he painted red.  I think chickens should have a red shed; its so farmyard.  I started planting fruit trees and Brett pulled out all the cement blocks and brick which were scattered around the garden.  He created a planting bed with large rocks and small boulders, in the middle of the garden. 

My first garden shed was a rabbit hutch that we brought with us from Aspen Meadows for some reason.  We didn’t bring any rabbits with us; just this hutch.
The fence was still t-posts and wire, but Brett made me a beautiful garden gate for my birthday.
My mom died in 2014, which was devastating.  We had this sculpture of a pelican drinking champagne (two of her favorite things) commissioned for the garden.

Brett created another garden bed with stone, and I planted it with flowers my mother loved.  I sat in that red chair, thinking about her, a lot.
Brett finished replacing the t-post fencing with a wood and hog wire, creating a strong and beautiful deer fence.

We spread bark around the front part of the garden, leaving the orchard portion in grass (weeds).

Brett built me a second raised planter box, at the back of the garden, next to the chicken run.
The nectarine tree succumbed to canker and died.  In its place, I created another round bed.  I planted this one with a mix of natives and plants that attract birds and butterflies.  I moved those flags around until I had a design that I liked.
2018 was the year Brett built my greenhouse, with some help from his buddy Richard.
And some help from me, too.  Brett is deathly afraid of heights so that’s me working on the roof.

Brett built a cover for one of my raised beds.  For the first time, I got to eat my vegetables instead of just feeding the squirrels.  That’s the bird and butterfly garden in the foreground and the first round bed which is planted in flowers and herbs in the middle.
There are lots of projects still in the hopper.  Currently, I’m removing all the mint growing around my fruit trees (there are close to 20 of them).  I reconfigured their drip lines and am now replacing the mint with mulch.  My goal is to have the entire garden and orchard covered in mulch.  This year, Brett is going to build me a support for my tomatoes which will have their own area.  I love my garden — its been a lot of work, and it never would have happened without Brett.  That man can build anything.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Hungry, So Hungry

About a month ago, Sage went to the vet for her annual check-up and vaccinations.  The vet said she was in good health, other than be quite overweight.  I knew she was a bit chubby but he said she needed to lose eight pounds or so and that’s a lot for a medium size dog.  A few days later we had agility class.  Sage struggled with one of the jumps; a broad flat jump.  She trotted across it instead of jumping and, despite trying a number of times, just couldn’t do it.  I talked to the instructor after class to get some tips on how to help her with the jump.  The instructor said that she couldn’t do the jump because she was too fat.  So, poor Sage has been on a diet.  I can’t quite feel her ribs yet but she has lost weight.  The agility trainer suggested adding canned pumpkin to her food as it is full of fiber and will help her feel full on her reduced portion of dog food.

She’s still hungry.  She’s been eating horse manure (puppy pesto, our vet called it) and anything she can catch.  Poor thing.  I think we’re getting close to her target weight although I’m not too keen on taking her into the vet to get weighed.  ...I’m not sure that is an essential service.  Sage is sure it’s essential.  She wants to be done with this diet already.

In other news, our farrier is in isolation after being exposed to COVID19. He is scheduled to come out next week.  I’m hoping his 14 days are up by then.

On the weekend, our microwave stopped working.  We have a combo oven and microwave unit so when the technician said he needed to take it into the shop for a “good week,” I felt a wave of panic.  Since its a combo unit, I am now without my microwave and my oven.  It’s a good thing I was a baking fool last weekend.  We have bread in the freezer and cake on the counter so we should be okay.  I can work around the lack of an oven with the BBQ and stovetop, but what a pain.

Have any of you done paint-by-number?  I thought I’d try it since I can’t get books from the library on my Kindle.  They are all checked out.  Do any of you have that problem?  We have a very small library so I’m wondering if that is the issue.  Anyway, I got my first PBN kit today and started.  So much fun!