Smoochie

You’re right.

I didn’t write a single post in the month of July.

And August is almost half over.

So I’m turning over a new leaf and forcing myself to write again.

I actually enjoy writing. And working all the time has kind of jabbed a knife in the back of my desire to be creative or express myself. Well I’m making a conscious effort to focus on the things that bring me happiness. And make an effort to eliminate those things in my life that add no value to it. I need to go back to square one. I need to make my sphere smaller.

So hopefully this will equate to more writing. Though I can not guarantee any of it will be any good, my hope is that it will at least help ease my mind. And maybe you’ll learn something new along the way.

I’ll write three posts this week (actually write them all today, but post them on three different days) on three topics that you, my trusted reader, may find of interest.

One will update you on bees. Another will tell you what’s going on with the basement project.

But today I’ll tell you about our latest pet adventure: a fish tank.

Our youngest has wanted pet fish for some time now. Well we finally caved in a few weeks ago and got him, the whole family actually, a ten gallon fish tank. I had fish growing up as a kid so I sort of knew what we were getting into. With three cats successfully living for a number of years under our stewardship, we figured we could handle some tropical fish.

First off we went to Petsmart and bought an all-inclusive 10 gallon fish tank kit from Top Fin. It included tank, filter, heater and LED illuminated hood. Each family member picked out a fake plant, and we got a 10 lb. bag of gravel, as well as a kick ass looking rusted pipe looking decoration; it fits our industrial chic vibe we’ve got going on at the casa.

Now, before you write me letters on how awful the tropical fish industry is, let me just stop you there. Yes, it is horrific. But as you should know by now, I can’t save everything for everyone all the time. I happen to like pet fish and I think it’s a good teaching experience for the boys: animal appreciation, life, death, responsibility and more. Plus, we decided my office was the best place for the tank, so my mental health and blood pressure benefit from the calm hum of the filter and the swimming fish-ies. Here is a PETA article about how to responsibly do pet fish, if you must be irresponsible monsters such as yours truly.

We set up the tank according to the directions and a few YouTube videos. Treatment wise we used Seachem Prime and Stability to get the tap water whipped into shape for our future guests. We then let the tank sit for three weeks, running, since we had to a vacation to go on.

Our fish tank set up.

Our fish tank set up.

Dixon approved.

Dixon approved.

Once we got back from vacation, we went to Petsmart for our own personal “Fish Day”. The rule of thumb is one inch of fish per gallon. Both boys would get to pick a fish out, as would the wife. Now you don’t want to get all your fish at once. For our little ten gallon tank, we would want to get them in two batches about two weeks apart. We selected neon tetras, 2-3 types of guppies and an algae eater. On this fish day we came home with the algae eater (Otocinclus) and five neon tetras. The tetras like to school, so you need to get a minimum of 3-6 of them. They alone account for five inches of fish. The algae eater another 2 inches. The guppies will push us up to 10.5 inches.

It’ll be fine.

Exciting! Getting our fish!

Exciting! Getting our fish!

Otocinclus are a type of algae eaters.

Otocinclus are a type of algae eaters.

Happily, as family, we introduced our new swimming pets to their new home.

We named the algae eater “Mr. Bloopy” aka “Smoochie” because he “bloops” around from place to place, and sucks on the aquarium glass. Every half hour the boys were in my office looking for him. He’s really good a camouflaging himself. Then filling the house with shouts and laughter they’d exclaim when they found him. Everyone was really getting into the fish tank.

Then it all went to crap.

Late that evening, day after we got the fish, I noticed Bloop swimming irregularly. Then he dashed down to the gravel and flopped on his side.

“Oh no! Smoochie!”

I poked him a little with the net to right up. He was still breathing, but looking lethargic.

Sadly I awoke this morning to find Mr. Bloop didn’t make it through the night. His little stomach no longer moved. Inquisitive searches for his whereabouts were no longer necessary.

Bloop was dead.

Mr. Bloopy "resting". (Sadly, I didn't get a picture of him before).

Mr. Bloopy “resting”. (Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of him before).

The boys took the news a lot better than their mother or father did. In less then 48 hours with us, he brought laughter and joy to our household. So much laughter, fun and excitement dashed.

I’m not sure what went wrong, though I know I didn’t do the one water treatment properly. I only put the Stability product in for one day instead of seven. I’m correcting that mistake this week. The tetras are doing fine, but just to be safe I got our water tested. The pH was off a little so I picked up some Tetra Easy Balance Plus and poured that in.

In two weeks we’ll get the water tested again and get the rest of the fish, including a new algae eater. And yes, we’ll probably call him Bloopy or Smoochie too.

I feel awful because it was basically my fault for not preparing the water correctly.

This afternoon we placed Mr. Bloopy’s little body in a tissue lined X-acto box and buried him beneath a maple tree back in the woods, just off of the nature trail. A small rock and bouquet of queen-anne’s lace marks his final resting spot. The sun filters down through the leaves and shines upon him warmly. I thought of burying him near the pond so he’d be near water, but we all decided that the woods up by the nature trail is a fine resting place for any critter.

It’s a nice place to rest.

I’d like my ashes spread there someday, god willing.

Then Bloop n me can swim whenever we want.

Stone marker before inscription

Stone marker before inscription

As written by a six year old: Mr Blope [Bloopy] The Fish XO XO [fish and hear emoji's] Love. I couldn't have said it better myself.

As written by a six year old: Mr Blope [Bloopy] The Fish XO XO [fish and hear emoji’s] Love. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

It’s nice to have been here at this home long enough to start building some memories, both good and bad.

And it’s nice to get back into writing.

Goodnight Mr. Bloopy. See you on the flip side.

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Spring 2015 Honey Bee Update

I haven’t been writing much this spring because I’ve been so busy with work. But I did want to update you on our bee hives. There’s been a lot going on, and not much of it has been good news.

First off, we knew we lost hive No. 1 this winter. The yellow jackets just devastated the hive in the fall and they couldn’t stand the sub-zero temperatures. So this spring we dumped in a new package of honey bees into the hive. Hive No. 1 is now doing great. We just put another deep box on that hive, and there is a lot of brood in the hive.

Hive No. 3 is doing fantastic as well. We’ve seen the queen both time we checked the hive this spring.

Hive No. 2 was the big disappointment this spring. The healthy, aggressive hive was fine all last year, and alive and well at the end of winter. Then devastatingly the hive just collapsed. We have no idea what happened, but the hive was a complete loss.

It’s too late to get a package of bees for No. 2 so we may pick up a swarm or split hive No. 3 this summer. We’ll likely take a class on that very topic later this month.

Meanwhile back at home I spent a few days harvesting and melting bees-wax. Since many of our frames were from dead hives I stripped the frames and melted the wax. The main take away here is that it’s not worth melting down really “dirty” wax; wax that’s been on the frame for years. There’s just too much dirt, and it’s a mess to try to filter it all out.

As for hive No. 2, and some of the frames from No. 1, there was some honey and pollen. I didn’t harvest any of it because it was hard to tell what had been sitting around and if any of it was any good. I guess if you want to really give it to your bees, you should freeze the frames. I harvested the wax, and left the pollen and honey for the bees to clean  up. Some of the deep frames found their way into the reinstated hive No. 1. The shallow frames will all be stripped soon, and then can be rebuilt by the hives later this year.

The loss of two hives is a major setback. It means no honey for us really this year, except maybe from hive No. 3. The loss of hive No. 1 was to be expected. The loss of the second hive was like an unexpected fist to the gut. It’s difficult to not get emotionally involved and then to suffer this big a setback, it hurts. But nothing is easy, at around here it’s not. While I’ll never get used to it, I know how to handle it. Just have to keep checking on the bees (and plants, and house, and god knows whatever else goes amiss around here). Keep doing what we do and hope for the best.

The bee hives in early spring before we installed the new hive No. 1 bees, and hive No. 2 was still alive.

The bee hives in early spring before we installed the new hive No. 1 bees, and hive No. 2 was still alive.

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day Present

Most guys would get their sweetheart roses, a card and maybe some chocolates. I bought my wife one-hundred-eight dollars worth of straw bales for Valentine’s Day.

The winter has been everything the Farmer’s Almanac had predicted, and more so. We’ve been snow-covered since Christmas for intents and purposes. And this week the bottom finally fell out of the thermometer; treating northeast Ohio to windchill lows in the -20 to -30 range. As Valentine’s Day dawned we were greeted with winter storm warnings, and cancelled travel plans.

The nagging worry about our bees, that had been omnipresent in the back of our minds, worked its way forward with the arctic weather looming. We decided to put up the burlap wind break that we had neglected to erect before winter. But we wondered if there was more we could do. I’m not sure who thought of what, but I googled “hay” and “beehives” and sure enough found examples of straw bale wind breaks around beehives.

The last thing I wanted to do was go buy a bunch of straw bales and haul them back to the apiary. But it was Valentine’s Day and suppose that’s what you do when you try to be more good, than bad.

With the suspicion that carrying bales of straw out back would be the end of me, visions of a heart attack leaving me face down in a blanket of snow, I reluctantly put on my long underwear, boots, scarf, coat, hat and gloves. Outside I went. I hooked up the trailer and headed down to our local hardware store / lumber yard. Once there, I bought as many bales as I could haul.

Sure enough, back at the ranch, after carrying two bales back I was ready to welcome the relief of a good life-ending cardiac event. That’s when my Valentine came out and had the great idea of using a sled to haul the straw back there. It worked brilliantly with the two of us, and our trusty sled, moving ten more bales back to our beehives.

I stacked the bales as best I could to get as much coverage around the three hives. We also put up the burlap wind break around the southwest corner, which is the corner most exposed to the prevailing wind. I also pushed some snow under the hives; the intent being that it’ll keep the wind our from under the hive. The top of the hives have a decent three inches of the white stuff to help insulate as well.

We’ll see. I’m not even sure if hive No. 1 is still alive. So maybe we could have allocated resources to the other two hives. There’s no way to tell so we just did the best we could do.

With that, I’m writing off the “straw bale for bees” thing as my Valentine’s Day present to my wife this year. And I didn’t even have a heart attack.

Snow Guard Repair

Elsewhere our friends at First Choice Exteriors came out and fixed the snow guard on the garage. They were out on Monday and fixed things right quick at no cost to us. If you have a need for a metal roof or metal roof accessories, these are the guys to call. They are courteous, and do great work; which they stand behind. They service northern Ohio, and I think they even trek out to Indiana, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Highly recommend them.

Basement Update

I finished farming the basement today! Only took me 6 months. I still have 3 metal studs to install but I’m leaving them out until we get EVERYTHING in to the storage room. Next we’ll get the framing and insulation inspected and the have the electrician come out to do his thing.

Today I completed the framing for a little storage cubicle under the staircase. That area, while good for storing Christmas decorations, it also makes for a good “fort” too.

Here are today’s photos. Stay warm peeps.

Mother Nature Hates Me

We’ve gotten a lot of snow this winter. In between snow storms we’ve gotten some days above freezing as well. The combination makes for perfect snow man making weather. It also has meant a lot of snow and ice has accumulated on the roof of our house and garage.

Last night I came home late, and found that the snow guard on the garage failed. The guard hung half off the roof, and managed to mangle our screened gutter as well.

Meanwhile on the other roof areas, warmer temperatures today mean that the snow continues to melt. The melting snow falls off the roof, even in areas with the guards, in large piles of wet snow and ice, often with a loud audible “poof”.

This is destroying all of our plants that we’ve planted around the perimeter of the house. The greatest disappointment was the burying of a witch hazel plant. These are Christine’s favorites so she was very sad to see one basically destroyed by the falling snow piles off of the porch roof (which is so flat we didn’t think it needed a snow guard). The witch hazel’s are also special because we drove all the way to Illinois to buy them. So replacing one isn’t as easy as just driving up to some store in the spring. I took the time to unbury the witch hazel and used string to prop up its broken branches. Maybe they’ll mend in the spring. Hopefully the plant will survive.

I devised a way to lessen the blow of the snow on the bushes, by placing three metal garden stakes to form a sort of tee-pee over the plant. This worked fairly well protecting a chokeberry this morning as probably 400 lbs. of snow cascaded down 30′ from atop the studio dormer. The Japanese maple, we rescued two years ago, didn’t fare as well. It lost quite a few branches.

I’m not sure there is much we can do to prevent this in the future. Some bushes will hopefully grow large enough that they can survive the snow dumps. Others may just be destined to succumb to it.

I took a walk yesterday and checked on the bees. I removed all the snow from atop the hives. I actually saw hive No. 3 bees flying. And unfortunately a few of them drop into the snow and die. Hive No. 2 had some dead bees in front of it. Unfortunately there were no sign of bees in front of hive No. 1, so I’m expecting the worst for that hive.

I’m ready for winter to be over. February is the worst month around here. It has zero redeeming value, and can not be over soon enough.

 

Farm Day

Farm

I have not found the time or spirit to write much since mid-month. Summer finds us busy trying to scrape by. For me at least I haven’t been in the mood to do much writing or anything for that matter. The work necessary to keep the homestead means we, or at least I, have little time or desire to enjoy the place. The irony is not lost on me.

Outside the world’s reverting back pre-house wilderness. My lack of time and desire means that the clover ridden yard hasn’t been cut in weeks. The planting beds we fought for so much last year are overgrown and mostly in-distinguishable. The garden is holding its own for now, though I can afford it not much more than a cursory glance here and there.

Part of me yearns for the day when the bank takes over the place and I can go back to living in some soulless suburb waiting for death to come rescue me.

What I really need to do is set aside a “farm day” each week to work outside. Six days of work and then one day to tend to the yard, beds, garden and bees. The property is blossoming into a full-blown micro farm (my word), but like any farm it requires attention. We’ve started harvesting herbs and vegetables on a regular basis. Judging by how well the bees are pollinating everything, we’ll have more crops than we could ever dream of, yielded from just a small little plot of ground. We need to start figuring out what to do with it all; look for people to barter or trade with. We’ve taken to freezing herbs such as parsley, cilantro and basil for future use. And I’ve got catnip, oregano and rosemary strung up in my studio drying by the north window. By summer’s end we’ll have enough we could start selling the stuff.

Also, I have my first batch of poison ivy all over my body. I will never, ever learn.

Bees

We did check the bees last week. Hive No. 1 has re-queened itself and she has been busy. The hive is full of eggs, larvae and capped brood. We pulled a total of ten frames of honey, about 40-80 lbs. before processing, as far as I can tell. I told Christine to go ahead and buy the equipment we need to process it. I’ve also got plans to build a homemade bees-wax solar melting box thing. Once that is built I can melt bees-wax into flat cookie sheet size slabs, cut them and store them for future use or sale. As for the other hives, aggressive hive No. 2 is doing well. Christine spotted their queen during last inspection, and the hive is growing at an alarming rate as well. I suspect my laziness in the yard is resulting in three of the happiest bee hives in the county. We have abundant clover and flowers; our little yellow friends don’t have far to fly. Hive No. 3 is not doing all too well though. They apparently have lost their queen and show no sign of making another. Hopefully things will change by time we check them next.

Snake

We found a Northern Ring-Neck snake behind our art show booth when picking up after the show. For more info click here. They’re cool looking snakes, though I didn’t want to pick it up without putting a baggy on my hand first. I dumped it in a bag and let it go by a creek across the way from our booth. Also, reptile / amphibian related: we have a new batch of tadpoles in the driveway pond. Nature hates me.

Rabbits

This past Saturday I awoke and decided to check on the veggie garden before we departed for our day of work at a local art show. As I got ready I could hear the boys yelling out that there were bunnies in my veggie garden. (It’s mine really, as I’m the only one who works the tick laden soil and plants).

See we have several bunnies who call our land their home. They live under our porch. Each morning they explore the property, eating clover, tea bushes and the occasional pepper plant. And every evening finds them playing in the yard, chasing each other endlessly, jumping in the air, landing in witch hazel.

Our youngest has even named them all…

Snacky

Bunny Paws

Fluffy

Woofy

Rupert

Vroom Vroom…

Like the skunks, deer, turkeys, crows, bats, hawks, woodpeckers, snakes….the rabbits are family. They are an integral part of the experience of living with this magical slice of heaven on earth.

So Saturday morning I stepped out to check on things. I figured I could scare the bunnies out of the garden and maybe they’d think twice about coming back, at least for a little while.

Turns out I would scare the living piss out of them.

The garden is surrounded by a fence delineated into 2×4 inch mesh. The double garden gate has a gap below it that allows the rabbits in. Something on my list to fix some day. On this particular misty morning I walked past all the overgrown planting beds, past the berry bushes and could see a rabbit in the veggie garden.

In my mind’s eye I imagined the rabbits would bolt when I approached and be gone from the garden. Turns out there were three rabbits, and as I opened the gate, sure enough the bolted faster than the blink of an eye.

The problem is since I was at the gate they ran away from me. And the fence openings aren’t big enough to allow a rabbit to pass through.

In a flash I had three rabbits, Rupert to the left, Bunny Paws in the middle and Vroom Vroom to the right, presumably stuck in my garden fence; their fuzzy little asses point back at me, their unlucky rabbit’s feet strumming the ground in a frantic manner.

I guess I imagined they’d jump the fence like a deer, not try to go through it.

What in the hell am I supposed to do now?

Strum, strum strum.

One at a time. I step towards Rupert. I look down at his furry little butt, plain as day. Cock my head a little. Scratch the whiskers on my chin.

Strum, strum, strum.

He looks back at me, and then he works himself free, taking off around the corner past the septic tank back to the porch.

One down, two to go.

Far off at the other end of the garden, Vroom Vroom has grown silent, under a blanket of tomato and zucchini plants. But in the center, Bunny Paws is flipping out. I can’t see him because of the large bush I left growing in the center of the garden. Every time he strums the bush shakes. I pull the bush back, hoping he’ll free himself as Rupert had done moments ago, and all I see is his legs furiously strumming.  I watched as he emptied his bladder, strummed some more and then listened as he cried out with the most god awful bleat. (click “distressed” HERE and turn your volume way up)

I turned tail and ran back to the house, grabbing the wife for moral support, and two wire cutters for technical support.

Oh and I grabbed my camera. You know. Blog.

Bunny Paws was still frantically trying to extract himself from the wire fence. I reached down with gloved hand and grabbed his skinny little butt. Felt just like a cat really.

BLEAT, BLEAT, BLEAT….

Strum, stum, strum.

Nothing.

I thought of going around and pulling. What I didn’t want to do was cut my perfectly good fence. But he was seemingly too fat to get through. So I grabbed my wire cutters.

Carefully I selected which wires to cut. The last thing I needed was Bunny Paws running around the yard with a 2×4 inch mesh fence belt.  I cut the top two wires above his hips.

BLEAT, BLEAT, BLEAT…

Strum, strum, strum.

“What the hell?” I thought out loud.

I grabbed a leg.

BLEAT, BLEAT, BLEAT…

Strum, strum, strum.

Crap. His legs are all intertwined in the fence, no wonder he can’t just scoot out. With every strum more fur came off, more likely he was to slit his tendons into useless rubber bands.

Visions of ‘Watership Down’ (the part where the bunny is trapped in the snare) dancing in my head I started cutting more wires. I grab both legs to stop them strumming. They’re so strong I can’t work them back out through the wires. I can only cut.

BLEAT, BLEAT, BLEAT…

In a flash Bunny Paws is gone, running through the brush. In my hand is a square of fence decorated with tufts of rabbit fur. The whole ordeal kind of weirded me out. Standing back up the corner where Vroom Vroom was is silent so I decide to leave him to his own devices. Presumably he either made it through the fence or lie in wait for us to depart. So we departed forthwith.

Now I have a hole in my fence, about the size of a rabbit. At least now they have one new escape route I guess.

A Note About The Blog

We keep having to pull levers to try to make this all work. The spousal unit and I are thinking of something new that would allow us to whore out what’s going on outside with the bees, garden, our knowledge and whatnot. We need another endeavor like a hole in the head, but at the end of the day it’s about amassing enough cash annually to pay for everything (and our tack isn’t working). And it will be an opportunity to pursue a shared dream. Plus I can’t store beeswax and oregano forever…

As such I’m taking a look at this blog (and everything else online) and may be calling it quits. Fret not my four (4) regular readers – we’d migrate to a new blog (or transform this one maybe). Regardless something’s gotta change. Stay tuned.

 

 

Fence Around My Peach Trees

Last evening I put fencing around the peach trees. And I sprayed some sort of deer and rabbit stuff…for keeping them away. It smelled like bloody cat vomit.

Peach tree fencing.

Peach tree fencing.

The "last" peach, hidden amongst the leaves. It's about the size of a walnut.

The “last” peach, hidden amongst the leaves. It’s about the size of a walnut.

Kicked Down

I could see it as soon as I got up this morning. Even without my glasses. Don’t ask me why, but it’s just part of my daily routine. I look out the window.

To see if it rained.

Yep, the eroded little “stream bed” was puddled, the soot building up over the walking path, near the anemic blueberry bushes.

To see what else happened overnight.

Everything growing exponentially. Green everywhere. Except the berry bushes of course.

So much work to do. I can’t keep up with any of it.

And then of course I could see what had happened outside my window, plain as day.

As I’ve said, it’s almost to the point where I can tell you the story of every leaf on every plant.

I could tell right away.

Already depressed, I put my shoes on. It’s trash day. So I gathered the trash and begrudgingly walked around back, off into the area beyond my bedroom window.

The deer decimated them, eating virtually clear up to four or five feet really. There is so much to eat around the land, I was in denial that they would bother three little trees. I know there are fences, potions and tricks spun by old wives, but deep inside I’m cut from a different cloth.

One that likes to pretend the world isn’t a shitty place to live in.

The worst part really it’s strictly a function of my defiance and ingrained laziness.

I looked closely.

Out of fifty, yes 50, peaches only three were left.

One very large one, hidden high within a tree that only had one or two to start with.

One very small one, barely a bud, low and residing also in a tree that had but one or two fruits.

And one random medium-sized peach, on a tree that easily had over forty-five peaches on it. Mind you a tree not much larger than a bush really.

The trees will survive. There are enough leaves, higher up, on each. Just as the apple trees survived their deer trimming last year or the year before.

I’ll fence the peaches in later today. More money. More time. I’ll spray concoctions around them. I may even endure the random “I told you so” to add insult to injury. I deserve it.

I’ll even wonder if it’ll ever sink in that maybe the universe is trying to tell me something.

Telling me that everything I do is daft. That trying to be different is wrong. Normal people don’t do this sort of thing. They don’t plant fruit trees and actually expect to get fruit. They don’t fight ticks, raise bees, live vastly beyond their means. I need to learn. That I should get back in line, do as they say, do as everyone else does.

Follow the rules.

If I’m lucky everyone sticks around for thirty minutes instead of twenty at my wake. Then the universe can chime in “Next.

I don’t know.

I hate to think that’s the case, but all the little things seem to point in that direction.

Maybe my saving grace is that I rarely if ever listen to anyone, the universe included. More often than not, to my detriment.

So I’ll live and learn.

I’ll put up little circles of wire.

And I’ll check on three little peaches every day for the rest of the season.

Post script: I went out to Lowe’s for a work project, and I purchased a 4′ x 50′ roll of 2×4 wire, so I can now protect the peach trees. And I bought four brightly colored tomato hoops just because they made me smile. They’ll add some fun to our garden, and not everything has to be formal, contemporary and “matchy” around here. They cost like $6 apiece so they’re not cheap but I don’t care; they make me happy.  🙂