Sunday, July 24, 2011

Crossroads Coffee and Ice Cream and a Stride Through Time

A few weeks back the Good Wife signed our family up for the Richmond Stride Through Time event.  The purpose of the event was to get some good exercise as a family and to see some of the historic sights in the historic Fan district in Richmond.  The best part is you get to go through a lot of the historical sites during the race, as the course goes through most of them.  An added bonus was the Good Wife's sister was visiting us that weekend and we had another boy with us we were watching that day.

So off we went that Saturday morning.  It was a warm morning, but not too bad.  We were all walking along and having a good time seeing a lot of the buildings and historic sites.  One impressive site was the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.  The most impressive part was the pipe organ in the back of the church.  They had an organist playing the entire time so you could hear how great it sounded.

We also got to see some historic figures along the way, or at least people that were playing the part.  They told us about the historical significance of certain areas, such as Scuffle Town...

...and Stonewall Jackson School.

As the "race" wore on, everyone was getting hot and tired.  We even made a short cut and eliminated part of the course.  Walking along, feeling hot and tired, I glanced over to my right, and there it was, written in a puffy font, like balls of ice cream atop cones...Crossroads Coffe and Ice Cream.

Both of those items sounded good, but the ice cream really sounded good.  So we veered off the race course and went into Crossroads, ordering up milkshakes for everyone.  The usual Saturday morning crowd was in the shop, looking at us in a quizzical manner, wondering why we all had race numbers pinned on our shirts, but were standing in a coffee shop getting ice cream.  We tried to explain that we were in a "race" but not really.

They had a great selection of homemade ice creams, and their coffee menu looked really good too.  It had two separate seating areas inside, along with a nice patio area outside that was dog friendly.  The front of the counter had a large cork board that seemed to serve as the community center of the area, listing events and activities happening in the area.

We walked out and continued on our "race", each with a milkshake in hand.  Oh it tasted good.  And not just because it was sunny and hot outside, although that helped.

Looking on their website, there are two locations in Richmond.  Although I haven't been back yet and haven't visited the other location, both of these locations are on my list of things to do, and not too far in the distant future.

The race continued on and everyone got tired, especially the youngest two.  The Good Wife is amazing, and for a little while decided to punish herself by carrying not one of them, but both at the same time.

She went a lot further than I ever thought she would.  Never say she can't do something, or the next thing you know, she will be doing it.

Approximately 7K later, we finished the 10K event.  With all the kids in tow, we felt that it was a nice accomplishment.  No one really complained and everyone had fun.  We got to learn about some of the historic sights in the Fan district of Richmond, and we found a great coffee and ice cream shop in Richmond!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Poultry Watering System

A little while back, after reading a bit on the forum of Back Yard Chickens,  I bought some poultry nipples from QC Supply.  The Oldest Son thought the name of them was funny.  Every time the words "poultry nipples" were mentioned, he would get this silly grin on his face and laugh.  I'm not sure if he was trying to picture nipples on a chicken or what he had in mind.  But he really thought it was funny.

After having the poultry nipples for a few weeks without doing anything, it was time to get started.  This is the first time I am trying to do a step by step process so someone else can learn how to do it, so please, bear with me.

First, a few supplies were needed.  A piece of 1" schedule 40 PVC pipe, some end connectors, some tubing and an empty bucket.  Everything was purchased, except the bucket, which I got from the bakery at the local Kroger bakery.  Someone on the chicken forum said about getting buckets at the bakery, so I went and asked.  Surprisingly, they went into the back room and came back with three buckets with lids for free. You CAN get something for free these days!

Chicken Waterer Parts
 Next the tools were gathered together.  This was so that everything would be on hand when needed, and I wouldn't have to go all around looking for tools.

Tools for making the chicken waterer.

Cordless drill with 11/32" drill bit, PVC pipe cutter, PVC pipe primer and glue, teflon tape, measuring tape, pencil and an open end wrench (can't remember the size, but it fit the poultry nipples).

The PVC pipe was cut to the length that was needed for the waterer.  I made two watering systems.  One has three poultry nipples and one has six poultry nipples.  I spaced the poultry nipples 10" apart, which seems to work well.  So after marking the 10" point, a 11/32" hole was drilled at each mark.

The poultry nipples were then wrapped with teflon tape, to make sure that they didn't leak once installed.  You can never have enough insurance on avoiding leaks.  The next step is to screw all the poultry nipples into the holes in the PVC pipe.

Easier said than done.  A few went in easily and threaded really nice.  The rest were a real struggle to get in.  One other thing to note, be sure to try and keep the poultry nipples in a straight line so they are all pointing the same direction.  I know this should be assumed, but you never know.

One trick used on the second system I made, was to use a propane torch to help get the poultry nipples threaded.  Using a propane torch, I heated up the hole in the PVC pipe to make the pipe soft.  Just make sure you don't over heat it and deform the hole.  Then I threaded in a poultry nipple without teflon tape, and then removed the nipple after a minute once the PVC pipe cooled.  That left nice threads in the hole to put the nipple into once it had the teflon tape.

After putting on the end connectors, the main portion of the watering system is complete.  I used more connectors than was necessary on the ends so I could unscrew the end and clean out the waterer if necessary.  After having it going for a month or so now, I think that was overkill as it is staying really nice and clean, even in the summer heat.

The bucket had a hole drilled in the bottom and a PVC connector was installed.  Then it was about installing the system in the chicken run.  I put one inside the run and one on the outside.  That would allow both free-ranging birds and birds in the run to both get a drink, not knowing at the time what was going to work.

The poultry nipples were installed approximately 19" off the ground as that is how big my chickens were when I installed it.  That allows them to look up and get a drink.  Be sure to install it with the hose end slightly higher than the closed end, so the air will flow up and go up into the bucket, allowing all the nipples to drain water.

Now, with this system, I only have to fill the frosting bucket about every two weeks, with my nine birds.  When you can eliminate all the wasted water and the dirty water in the other watering dishes, they actually don't drink that much water.  It may also be due to the fact that all my chickens and guineas free-range all day and are able to get water from the dew on the ground in the mornings.

Water drops on the PVC is from rain.

Whatever the situation, I highly recommend a watering system such as this.  It makes it so much easier to water the birds and eliminates a lot of time dealing with the traditional watering trays.  It also has to be better for the birds since it is always clean water they are drinking.

Hopefully these instructions were clear enough to give you the basics of how to make a similar system.  If you have any questions or feedback on a system that you have made, be sure to let me know.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

First egg...from a chicken!!

Doesn't it look beautiful?  I never thought I would be so excited about something so simple.  Wednesday we left the chickens in the run most of the day until I got home from work and let them free-range for a little bit before dark, but nothing.  Today I let them out of the coop before I left for work thinking they must not be ready yet.

Tonight when I went down to the run to close it up for the evening, I opened up the lid of the nesting boxes and there it was, tucked down in the corner of the straw.  Not the biggest egg, but it is the first.  No idea which chicken laid the egg, but it is a start.  Let the eggs begin!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Punishment Gone Wrong

Last week Middle Son had misbehaved and needed a punishment.  The Good Wife felt that having him go out to the garden and pull some of the grass that has been growing up amongst all our veggies would be a good time consuming punishment, giving Middle Son some time to think about what he had done wrong.

I'm not sure of the exact details of the punishment instructions, but I am guessing it was something to the effect of, "Go out to the garden and pull the weeds and grass out of one section of the garden."  It may not have been that specific, which is where the problem may have started.  Again, I wasn't home at the time, and am not privy to the exact details.

However, as the Good Wife says, the Middle Son is very much like me, the Haphazard Countryman.  Being an engineer by education, I am always looking for more efficient ways to get the job done.  Some call it lazy, but I call it being efficient.  That's what happens when you are trained in "Lean Manufacturing".  Trying to eliminate waste from the production cycle.  Trying to get to the desired end result in as little time and effort as possible.  And tying the relationship of Middle Son to me, helps to explain the outcome.

Middle Son proceeded to grab the weed killer and spray more than one section of the garden.  That caused the entire section of the garden to die a brown and tangled death.  Some may look at this as the Middle Son being derelict in his punishment.  Others may look at him trying to be efficient, and possibly generous, as he proceeded to "take care" of more than just one section of the garden.

I'm not sure if he decided he had done enough and stopped, or the Good Wife saw what he was doing and came running out, instructing him in the errors of his ways.  Either way, a good section of the garden, along with everything growing in it is dead.  The only question now, is can we even use that portion of the garden next year?  Only time will tell.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Japanese Beetles and My Picky Chickens and Guineas

This last fall we planted a dozen various fruit trees.  We planted a selection of apple, pear, peach, cherry, plum and even a kiwi.  We bought them online at Stark Brothers Nursery.

Overall they have done really well, except for the plum, kiwi and one of the apple trees.  The plum was just a stick with no roots, so not sure what happened there.  The kiwi was but a sprout, and that died out.  The apple tree death was due to the boys.  When we got a bit of snow this last winter, they were being towed on a sled behind the neighbor's ATV and swung wide.  They went past the tree and the rope did a great job of cutting the tree right at the base.

All that is left of the apple tree after the boys decapitation.

They have a one year guarantee, so we will get those replaced early this fall and try again, although we may skip the kiwi as we later learned it was a vine, not a tree.  Not sure I want to deal with that at this point.  Although the trees have done well overall, we probably would have bought locally if we had known last fall that everyone would be selling fruit trees locally in the spring.  Being from AZ, how were we supposed to know?

The last couple weeks we have noticed that there are a lot of Japanese Beetles on the cherry trees, and starting to head to the apple trees.  For some reason, they don't like the peach trees.  After purchasing some spray at the hardware store, the Good Wife pointed out that it is extremely toxic, not only to humans and every living creature, but particularly to honey bees!  Yikes!  I can't do that.  The online search began for an organic method to control the Japanese Beetles.

Cherry tree eaten by Japanese Beetles.

One website mentioned to pick them off by hand and place into soapy water to kill them if you don't have a lot of trees.  Since we had less than a dozen, that seemed like a good idea.  Later on the website it mentioned that if you had chickens, you could feed the beetles to the chickens and they would really like them.  Aha!  Save the trees and give the chickens and guineas a treat!

So this morning I went out to the trees and picked all the Japanese beetles off the cherry trees and placed them into a glass jar.  After collecting about two dozen beetles, I went down to the poultry run to deliver my special treat to the chickens and guineas.  Before opening the run, I went inside and dumped the jar of beetles on the ground.  The chickens stopped and looked at the beetles, then looked at me, as if to say, "You want me to do what with those?  You want me to eat those?  Gross!"  They totally ignored the beetles.  I opened up the run to let them free range and they all took off, out of the run.  They had no interest in the beetles at all. I had to go back into the coop and step on all the beetles to kill them so they didn't head back to the trees.

Japanese beetles making more beetles after eating the leaf empty.

Who would have known that the chickens would be so picky.  Maybe I need to give the beetles to the chickens after they are out of the run and aren't distracted with getting free.  Or maybe they would be a better treat before bedtime when they head back to the coop at the end of the day.  I'm not going to give up on this, since if the chickens do acquire a taste for these little beetles, they may search them out and help save my fruit trees.  Stay tuned to see if my chickens only like "free-range" bugs.

Bees in Possum's Garden - The "Bee Beard"

The hive in Possum's garden has been doing great. It quickly drew out the comb in the second deep hive body. Starting a few weeks after the original two hives, this hive has caught up and is basically at the same point of growth, or filling, or whatever they call what hives do when they progress.

Part of its progress may be due to the 3 acre garden that Possum has going on right outside the front door of the bee hive.

This picture only shows a portion of the garden.

What a delicious view the bees see every morning. Watermelons well on their way to 50+ pounds, canteloupes that are ripening in the midday sun, rows of beans that snap to attention when picked, and rows of squash, among other succulent items. As this post get diverted from the topic of bees, it seems appropriate to show you one of the by products of keeping bees next to a garden.

More squash than we can eat, and all the green beans I can pick, or we can accept from Possum. He is more than generous with his garden bounty, and we do appreciate it, as "bountiful" is not a word that comes to mind when describing our garden, unless you are talking about the grass growing in our garden and over taking the veggies. But I digress. Back to the bees.

Last week as I was heading to the hive at Possum's garden, I drove by the original hives and the front of the hives was dark with bees. They were forming a beard under the front lip of the hive.

Bees clinging together forming a "bee beard" under the hive entrance.

Not knowing whether this was a good thing or bad thing, I sent out the pictures to one of the bee keepers in my bee club. The word that came back was good. It was a sign of a strong hive during hot and humid weather. The "excess bees" in the hive go outside the hive to help keep the heat and humidity down inside the hive. No more fear, all is good.

To keep from turning this post into a novel, I'll wrap up the final hive comments quickly. Since all three hives have drawn out comb on all the foundation in both of their deep hive bodies, I removed the hive top feeders and added a queen excluder and a medium honey super to each hive. It is late in the season, but most of the experienced bee keepers at the bee club say it is the best year since the early 90's. They felt if the consistent rains keep coming, I may get some comb and even some honey before fall. That would allow the bees to start filling the comb with honey right away next spring, instead of having to put a lot of effort into first building out the comb.  That is why, as everyone knows, or as I am told, comb is golden!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Crabtree Falls Hike

Over the July 4th weekend we took a few day trips around our area and got to see a lot of different things, including the Jamestown settlement and Yorktown battlefield.  We also went towards the mountains and took a hike up Crabtree Falls.

It was easy to get to and easy to find along the road.  They have the usual National Park Service bathrooms that are basically a concrete hole with a sheet metal toilet seat sitting on top.  The nasal aroma is intense, but it gets the job done when you are no where near a bathroom and in need.

Reading online, we read that it was 1.1 miles to the top.  However, upon arrival at the falls, the trail started with a distance marker proclaiming 0.0 of 1.7.  Hmmm.  It was hot that day, and no wind in the trees as we started our hike.  It didn't take long to get to the first scenic views of the waterfall.

The hike was an easy trek, with a lot of work done on the trail to make it accommodating to all people, including log steps and the rocks cut into steps at places.

Although the claim to fame is that these falls are "...the highest vertical-drop cascading waterfalls east of the Mississippi River..." there isn't a single vertical drop that is in and of itself overly impressive.  It is more the combination of all the falls in this line, along with the pools full of cold mountain water that make this a beautiful hike.

Oldest and Youngest sons decided that they didn't want to go much past the 1.1 mile mark.  So we continued on and left them there to soak their feet in a cool pool.  After spending a short time at the top and starting to head down, Oldest and Youngest sons were heading up the train to the top, so we turned around and went back up to enjoy the views with them.

Asked why they decided to keep going and come all the way to the top, Oldest Son said that he was tired of people looking at them sitting there as they walked by heading up to the top!  Stranger peer pressure.  Amazing.

The hike down was easier, and the views were just as spectacular of the water falls on the way up.

I highly recommend this hike if you are in the area as the drive to the parking lot to start the hike is just as rewarding as the hike itself.  My only comment would be to take enough water for the hike up and down, or take a small water filter as one guy at the top had, especially if it is in the heat of summer.  You won't be disappointed.

Friday, July 8, 2011

More Eggs...from the Guineas!

We got two more eggs.  Apparently our guineas like to lay eggs in pairs.  Maybe it is because they are so small right now.  These at least had the light brown appearance that they should be having.  One was crushed again, and the other was severely dented.  I didn't have my camera with me, so no photos of this one.

The dented egg was placed in the straw nest that I had created in the Guinea Ghetto, hoping to let the guinea know that it should be laying the eggs in the 'nest' and not just dropping them off the roost.  Looking into the Ghetto the next day, something apparently liked the new egg, as it was gone.  The entire shell and everything was gone, which makes me think that maybe one of the guineas ate it.  I would like to think that scenario, rather than a snake came and got it.

I placed two golf balls in each nesting box for the chickens, hoping that they will get the hint when the time comes. Maybe I need to do the same for the guineas to help them get the hint, and to keep them from eating any eggs they may lay.

Both the chickens and guineas started getting "layer crumbles" this week, so hopefully this will help them with their egg laying.  They are all around 18 weeks old, give or take.  They also need to have some crushed oyster shells available or something to increase their calcium.  That should help make their eggs stronger and also help them lay the eggs, according to all the information out on the internet.

Time will tell if the guineas are smart enough to procreate, or if it is survival of the species, and guineas need human help to keep them from being wiped off the planet, or at least off our little piece of the planet.