Unwelcome guests

As I pushed the mower out of the driveshed, I felt plops hit the top of my head. A few seconds later, sharp burning pains in my neck. I knew what it was right away, though I didn’t know how it had happened. I ran for the house, frantically sweeping my hands through my hair and over my neck.

Wasps.

I had noticed the nests that were high up in the gable of the driveshed had fallen but not thought much of it.

Wasp nests in the driveshed

Then the day before the stings I noticed a new nest had been built under the hose hanger on the driveshed.

I had moved Baxter’s and Ralph’s water bowl over to the driveshed, as it was easier to fill there, particularly when I was wearing Ellie in her carrier. When I think of the times I’d stood there WITH HER RUNNING THE HOSE NEXT TO THE NEST my stomach clenches.

Wasp nest under the hose hanger

Wasp nest under the hose hanger

I hadn’t noticed that there was a second nest in the corner of the garage door. Until I opened the door and disturbed its residents.

Wasp nest

Matt checked my stings and then set off to the store for bug spray. That evening, Ellie safely asleep in her crib, Matt suited up, and we mounted an eviction.

Matt dressed for wasp eviction

Despite appearances, this is not an ad. Although I think Matt has a future as a spokesmodel, right?

Spraying a wasp nest

Spraying a wasp nest

A few nights later Matt gave the nests an additional shot, and the next morning his Dad showed up. After surveying the nests briefly, Matt’s Dad grabbed a shovel, knocked down the nests and carried them to our burn pile.

Thank goodness the spray worked.

I’m a live and let live woman, but not in this case.

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Hand feeding hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are regular guests in Illinois for Sarah. This year she has more visitors than ever… and she’s getting even more up close and personal in a really exciting way.

We are in what I am guessing is the peak of the season for hummingbirds here in Illinois. I am not sure how many birds we are feeding but I know that last weekend they went through over a gallon of syrup in two days.

There are a few sources that say that an accurate way to guess how many hummingbirds you have is to count how many birds are at your feeder at one time and multiply it by six. So for example, if the most birds you see at your feeder are 3, you are probably really feeding closer to 18.

One evening Steve and I tried to count as fast as we could how many hummingbirds were at our feeders at one time and we feel we were pretty accurate at counting 30. So by this estimate we may be feeding close to 180 hummingbirds! I’m not sure if this is true but I know for sure that we have a bunch.

The more I watch them the more I am fascinated by them. I just want to learn more and make our property as inviting as possible for them.

I have had an idea brewing in my mind for quite a while now that I want to hand feed or possibly even hold a hummingbird. So I started collecting the little tubes that come on some fresh flowers. I thought it was just the right size to hold in my hand and already had a small hole for the hummingbird to eat from.

Now I just had to come up with something to attract the hummingbird to this feeder. I looked around the house and found a red plastic cup.

I decided that would be easy enough to cut a flower shape. So I just cut the bottom out of the cup and then cut a petal shape all the way around the disc.

My first idea to attach the flower to the rubber cap on the tube was to use a hot glue gun. Unfortunately this did not hold tight very long. Steve found a bottle of glue we had sitting around the house and it worked perfectly.

After filling the tube with syrup the only thing left to do was hold the tube very very still near where the hummingbirds stop for their meals, and wait. And wait and wait and wait.

I practiced a lot of patience one Saturday evening. But it paid off:

Have you ever hand-fed a hummingbird? Do you ever collect something thinking one day it will be useful? Do you ever have trouble practicing patience?

This is awesome, Sarah! I’ve tried coaxing our chickadees to eat from my hand, but I don’t think I gave it enough time. Apparently I have trouble practicing patience! (Although I blame the cold.)

How to prepare your dog for a baby

Baxter and Ellie

As our little family has grown, I’ve loved watching Baxter with Ellie. I’m so proud of how relaxed he is with her.

As soon as we found out we were pregnant, I started thinking about how I wanted Baxter to act around our baby and what behaviours we needed to work on. We consulted with our trainer and at the beginning of this year (about two months before our due date) we started working in earnest to prepare Baxter for his new role as big brother to Ellie.

Baxter watching Ellie in the play yard

As regular readers know, I’m a contributor to ThatMutt.com, where I write about dog training and behaviour. I’ve been sharing all of the details of our baby prep strategies for Baxter through a series of posts on ThatMutt, and this weekend the final entry was posted. I’m really proud of this series, so I wanted to mention it here.

Baxter and Ellie are both really, really important parts of our family. While Ellie isn’t super aware of her big brother yet, Baxter has been doing very well with Ellie. For the most part he ignores her—which is fine with us—but he also chooses to lay as close as possible to her stroller when we’re working outside and waits beside the car until I unload her when we come home from an outing. He seems to recognize her as part of the family.

Ellie in her stroller in the garden

Here are the links to the individual posts in my series on how we prepared Baxter for our new baby:

As Ellie grows we’re going to have to teach her how to behave in many situations–and especially how to behave around Baxter and other dogs. Likewise, he’s going to have to keep on adjusting to her. We’re very focused on working with them both to make sure everyone lives happily and safely together.

Hiking with Ellie and Baxter

I hope you’ll check out some of the posts and leave a comment if you have any advice or questions. I also hope that this series becomes a resource for other parents and dog owners out there. Thanks to Lindsay at ThatMutt.com for allowing me to document this important time in our family.

For all of you dog lovers out there, ThatMutt.com is having a huge giveaway featuring $500 worth of great dog gear from Mighty Paw. Baxter has a bunch of MP equipment, and we love it. Just for entering, you’ll receive $5 to spend on anything in the Mighty Paw store and a free copy of Lindsay’s dog training ebook, “The Good Mutt Guide.” The deadline is Wednesday. Click over to ThatMutt.com to enter (and read a couple of the baby prep posts while you’re there 😉 ).

Hummingbirds arrive in Illinois

Wildlife sightings are one of the highlights of living at the farm. I particularly love to spot hummingbirds because they’re some of our rarer visitors. Sarah in Illinois enjoys her hummingbirds too, and she’s here today with her latest sightings.

Most days I have a to-do list a mile long, but Steve and I still take the time to sit out on our deck, have a drink and throw the ball for Blitz. We also like to watch the hummingbirds.

They seemed to show up late this year. Looking at my garden calendar (see, I use it all the time!) last year the first hummingbirds showed up on May 3. I waited patiently–well not so patiently after friends and family gave me their updates:

While I was mowing I would look over at the feeder every time I made a pass by the house.

After several days, I dumped out the syrup in the feeder and made a fresh batch. I didn’t want them to have any excuse not to stop at my house!

I finally was rewarded with a couple visitors and I shared with my friends on May 12 that I counted 6 at my feeder at one time.

I now have 4-5 regularly visiting through the day. I feel like this is less than I normally have at this time of year, but since they got a late start I am hoping that that is why I have fewer little friends.

I have talked about my love of hummingbirds before, and here is a reminder of how to make your own syrup:

Boil 4 parts water with one part white sugar just until sugar dissolves. Then let cool.

You do not need to add any food coloring. The hummingbirds will find the feeder. You can store the extra syrup in the refrigerator for a few days.

Make sure to keep an eye on your feeder. If the syrup begins to look cloudy or you see bugs, ants or other insects floating in it, throw out the syrup and add fresh.

Anyone else have their hummingbird feeders out? What breed of hummingbirds are in your area? We only see Ruby-Throated around here but I know the west coast gets a much larger variety.

Hummingbird watching sounds like a great way to end the day, Sarah. I’ve seen one bird this year, flitting around Ellie’s diapers as they dried on the clothesline! Apparently he enjoyed the bright colours.

Early mornings in Illinois

I would not call myself a morning person, but there is something magical about those early moments in the day. Time to be alone and enjoy the quiet of the farm. Time to be productive and tackle a little bit of work. Sarah in Illinois–also not a morning person–has come to appreciate her morning routine. She is here today, sharing a bit about how she starts her day.

Having chickens requires me to get up a little earlier every morning to tend to them. This isn’t the easiest for someone who readily admits she is not a “morning person.” However, I do enjoy the fact that everything is a little more peaceful just as the sun rises. It also allows me to spend a little one on one time with Blitz. We like to play ball and visit with Ruff the barn cat.

These two have comically become good friends.

I think because it is early morning, and they both are still a little groggy from sleep.

When I leave the barn I usually pat Ruff on the head and her head is always soaked in Blitz’s slobbers.

I have begun to really enjoy this quiet time in the morning. It helps remind me to slow down and look around.

Are you a morning person? What do you enjoy about the start of the day? Do you have a pair of unlikely buddies around your house?

Aww. It’s great to meet your Ruff, Sarah. I wonder how she and Ralph would get along. Baxter and Ralph’s relationship is definitely not as buddy-buddy as Blitz and Ruff’s. I would say Ralph tolerates Baxter. She definitely does not allow him to slobber on her. It’s great that Ruff and Blitz have become such good friends.

Chickens by the numbers

It’s been more than a year and half since Sarah in Illinois welcomed her first chickens. She is here today with an update on her flock.

7 – Number of chickens still happy and healthy.

2 – Number of breeds of chickens still on my wish list (Leghorns and Ameraucana).

4 – Number of chickens my stepdaughter put charm bracelets on.

5 – Average number of eggs I still collect every day.

3 – Number of weeks a 50 pound bag of feed lasts.

1 – Number of wheelbarrows of corn I still have left to crack

0 – Number of chickens that will leave the coop if there is any snow on the ground.

100 percent – How happy I am that I decided to take on this adventure.

Between their bracelets, disdain for snow and hand-cracked corn, I think you have some pampered hens, Sarah. (Although I think aversion to snow is fairly common in chickens.) It’s great that you’ve been able to keep them healthy and happy and keep receiving eggs from them. Your enjoyment of them is obvious.

How to prepare your dog for a baby

#2018 onesieAs you can imagine, lots of baby prep is happening here at 129 Acres. We’re finishing off the baby’s room, figuring out how to unfold and then collapse the stroller (seriously, I feel like I should have studied engineering), installing the car seat, freezing meals and a whole bunch of other things.

One of the most important parts of our preparation is working with Baxter to get him ready for the changes that are coming.

Baxter and me in the baby's room

We have a great trainer, and she’s been very encouraging and helpful. As well, we have a great, easy-going, relaxed, lazy dog, so I think we’re starting from a very good place.

I’m going to be documenting our baby prep strategies for Baxter on ThatMutt.com. The series kicked off yesterday and new posts will be added every other week for the next several months.

I encourage you to hop over to That Mutt and check them out. I also welcome feedback, advice and more questions. I may not know the answer yet (#firsttimemom), but I’m happy to figure it out.

Baxter is a really important part of our family, so we want to make sure he’s as comfortable as possible when the new addition arrives.

Baxter up close

I’m still going to be your baby, right?

Inspiration and a mantra for 2018

Happy New Year from Sarah in Illinois. I’m very happy to have Sarah continuing as a contributor this year, sharing news of what’s happening at her farm in Illinois. Like us here in Ontario, she’s starting off the year in a cold snap, but she’s looking ahead with optimism. She’s sharing some of her inspiration for 2018 today.

Happy New Year!

Our new year in Illinois has been great, but very, very cold. We have not made it above freezing temperatures in about two weeks. Last night we dropped to -6F (-21C) actual temperature. Keeping water available to the chickens has been my biggest struggle, even with a heated water bowl.

There is one more inconvenience that I am dealing with. Frozen eggs!

I gather them in the morning before work, but by the time I get home and there has been 10 hours of single digit temperatures, I usually find this:

However, relief is on the way. The forecast for the upcoming week shows that we are going to rise above freezing every day and I am looking forward to it.

I am also looking forward to the upcoming year. A new year always feels like a blank slate. For us, 2017 had some good points but a lot of struggles and the promise of a fresh new start is invigorating.

If you remember my posts last year or the year before I used the website My One Word to find an inspirational word for the year.

I decided this year that I want to use a phrase as a sort of mantra for my upcoming year and I wrote it in the front of my new planner.

I am not sure where this phrase originated. I found a version attributed to Roy T. Bennett in The Light in the Heart: “Do what is right, not what is easy nor what is popular.”

I found this quote by David Cottrell: “Doing the right thing isn’t always easy – in fact, sometimes it’s real hard – but just remember that doing the right thing is always right.”

And if you are a fan of Harry Potter then I am sure you remember Albus Dumbledore saying, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

No matter who first said it, I think it can be applied to every aspect of my life from what I choose to eat, to getting chores done around the house and barn.

So what about you? Do you have a word or a mantra to start your new year? Or do you write out resolutions? Do you feel like I do and think of the new year as a clean, blank slate?

This is a great mantra for the year, Sarah. I like how it can apply to big things as well as the little everyday tasks. I’m doing a word of the year for the first time this year, and I’ll be sharing my choice in an upcoming post.

I’m curious to here how others are starting the new year. Leave a comment and let us know your resolutions or words or mantras.

DIY cracked corn for chickens

Most of us will do anything for our pets. With the help of a local farmer, Sarah in Illinois is giving her hens a special treat this fall. Although I’m not sure how helpful this farmer has actually been.

My chickens are fed layer feed every day, but once in a while I buy a bag of cracked corn for them as a treat. I throw it around in the run for them to peck and scratch at during the day. It gives them something to do and they seem to love it.

So imagine my surprise when my farmer neighbor knocked on my door a few weeks back and told me that he had spilled some corn in the field while he was filling his bins. All I had to do was go out behind my barn and scoop it up before it rained. Well, heck yes. Free corn!

I went out in the field with a wheelbarrow and a scoop shovel, and I got corn. Lots of it.

While the chickens will occasionally eat whole kernels of corn, they much prefer when it is cracked, and I think it is also easier for them to digest.

My dad, whom I have mentioned before doesn’t throw anything away, said that he thought he had an old corn mill stashed somewhere. And it turns out that he did.

The mill is a simple machine. You fill the hopper on top with whole corn. It holds about 4 cups.

Then there is a wheel to crank and it turns a cylinder inside. It has a few slots that the corn falls down into and as it turns it crushes the kernel.

There is a knob on the side that you can turn and adjust the clearance inside the mill. The tighter it is turned, the finer the corn is milled.

We adjusted it to a point where the corn comes out just slightly cracked so that it is a good size for the chickens to handle.

All that is left is to crank away.

And crank.

And crank.

Steve asked me when I wanted him to mount an old motor to the crank.

I am getting closer to giving him the go-ahead!

I am making my way through this corn… 4 cups at a time.

Wheelbarrows of corn, 4 cups at a time. You’re a woman dedicated to her chickens, Sarah. When I was growing up and we had ducks and geese, they would get a ration of corn mixed into their winter feed. I think my Dad’s rationale was that the corn was higher fat and would help the birds in the cold weather. So the timing may be right for this influx of corn. Whether a treat or a bit of extra warmth, I hope your girls appreciate your work.

Monarchs fly again

Look who showed up again this year.

Monarch butterfly in a glass bowl

That’s right, once again we raised some monarch caterpillars into butterflies. We did this for the first time last year (well, it was my first time and our first time together. Matt did this lots as a kid.)

We hadn’t planned on doing it again this year, but then I found three fat caterpillars crawling on the milkweed in the meadow. Since mowing the meadow, the milkweed has popped back up, but nothing else has grown as tall. I was worried that the caterpillars were very exposed and would be tempting for a passing bird, so I brought them inside.

Three monarch caterpillars

They crawled around in a bowl on our island for a week or so (except for the one who made a dramatic escape and was apprehended marching across the kitchen floor–he had a broader worldview than his two bowlmates), and then they shed their outer skins for the chrysalis. I got to watch this happen this year and it was so cool.

Monarch caterpillar about to change into a chrysalis

Three monarch chrysalis

After another week or so, they shed their chrysalis and became butterflies.

Monarch chrysalis about to hatch

Two monarch butterflies hanging from a mesh screen

Newly hatched monarch butterfly

It was as exciting and special as it was last year.

I’ve seen more monarchs this year than I’ve ever seen in a summer. I’m hopeful that the population is healthy and growing. And hopefully our three are now part of that.