Honeysuckle

I’ve been working on that ruddy chicken fence some more today.  I’ve had to start on the section I’ve been avoiding all season.  The HONEYSUCKLE.  It’s probably about 25 or more years old.  I brought it home from a friend’s garden in Vancouver as a gift for my Dad, who used to get all nostalgic about English honeysuckle in gardens when he was a child.  The three or four cuttings I brought all thrived under his TLC and became rampant creatures that took over entire fences, and in the past couple of years, have begun demolishing the fences board by board.

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June 2012, see the chicken house back there?

 

The problem for me is that in the chicken run (Run #1 for anyone keeping track of where I’m at with all this fencing) the honeysuckle affords wonderful shade and shelter for the hens when they’re in that run.  From the house side of the fence, it’s just so darn pretty.  I really don’t want to take it down.  I want it to be there.  Plus, it’s under the walnut tree, and walnuts are well known for exuding juglone, which lots of plants don’t like and won’t grow near.  Honeysuckle apparently thrives on it.

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June 2012, outside the chicken run

 

On the down side, I have to get in there and cut it back pretty hard every spring anyway because it has big ambitions to take over the walnut trees and sends up huge runners every year, that twine themselves around the branches of the tree. Also, the fence under the honeysuckle is falling apart.  And somewhere under there, there is a hole in the wire.  I know this, because the last flock of chickens used it as their entry to the great beyond for their free ranging forays, pretty much daily.  Also, I see the cat emerging from somewhere in there occasionally.  I hate to cut off her access to the rat population, but I do want to contain the chickens, so…the fence has to be re-done, and the honeysuckle has to be dealt with.

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Inside the chicken run, just before I started cutting today

 

My plan is kind of fluid.  I’m hoping that my destruction is not complete enough to stop the honeysuckle from starting again, so to that end, I decided to just clip back one side at a time, so that I can see where the main trunks are coming out of the ground, and so I can get the wire off, replace the boards and hopefully leave a few stems of the honeysuckle to come back and take over again.  I don’t know if it will work.  My neighbour and I cut one back pretty ruthlessly about 10 years ago so he could put in some fence on his side, and despite his care and attention, that honeysuckle has never really been as strong again.  Well, maybe that’s a good thing.

Having finished clipping one side today, I have learned that the hole the chickens and cat were/are using is not under the honeysuckle.  Bother.  So why does it look like that’s where they’re coming through when I’m watching from the other side?  I guess I’ll find out eventually.

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Where the chickens are not getting through, but a big part of why I need to redo this part of the fence.

 

Mundane Monday

The title is borrowed from my friends at Union Homestead, and suits the day perfectly.  Mondays are often my catch up day, as my official work shifts at the library are Thu/Fri/Sat.  I usually have at least one other work day as well, so even my “weekend” is not always 2 days together,  It can make it hard to stay focussed on larger projects, hence my marathon 5 day challenge with the chicken house a while back.

So, how did my mundane Monday shape up?

The morning was not too bad for outside work – the sky was looming a bit, and there was the odd spatter of rain, but by and large it was not unpleasant working outside.

My current project is taking out the fence that is between run 1 and 2 of the hen house.  If you were around for my 5 day challenge, I repaired the fence between run 4 and run 3.  After the challenge, I just kept going on fences, and managed to get the fence between 3 and 2 repaired fairly easily.  The one I’m working on now is a different matter – the wire was down in one or two places and grass, thistles and brambles were growing through, making it difficult to remove.  All the posts but one have to come out as they’re leaning so badly, and part of that fence is actually part of an old “temporary” cattle chute put in about 20 years ago by the guy who used to do our hay before Hay Guy took it over – the other guy used to put his dry cows on our field after the hay season was over.  The posts for the cattle chute have rotted underground and the whole thing wobbles when chickens land on the top bar before flying over – clearly a piece of fence that is not doing it’s job.  I’ve done about 2 mornings on this fence so far, and this proved to not be the final day.  The wire is off as far as the cattle chute, and the T posts are all out.  I’ve started hacking the blackberries away from the wooden part of the fence, and there I’ve had to stop. I still have to remove the cattle chute and quite a bit of blackberry before I can start putting fence up again.

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Fence 1/2 before I started work this morning.

 

Mid-morning, a customer came to get the last three of the point of lays hens I’d advertised last month.  She had come a few weeks ago, and asked me to reserve some for her, as she wasn’t ready to receive them at her end – she has an existing flock, and was worried that one or two of them might have an infection, and didn’t want to bring home new birds till she knew her birds were clear.  Last week, she made contact to come and fetch the three I’d held back for her.  Gillian and her husband have a small acreage in a community just north of me, and have a cottage bakery business called Willowtree Bread, from which they make and sell artisanal breads, veggies and plant starts, and honey…and probably, if my hens are up to scratch, eggs as well!  We had a good chat while catching the birds and stowing them in their dog crate in the car, and later, when I’d had glanced at her website, I realized my chickens don’t know how lucky they are to have landed up there – they will be free ranging, and living out their days to a ripe old age with a great deal of TLC.

Lunch with a book was blissful – melted cheese on bread with the scrag ends of some pancetta left over from some fancy hors d’oeuvres the high school teen had made a couple of days ago as her contribution to the finger food at the fundraiser for her Global Perspectives class.  I don’t mind leftovers like that one bit.  I could see it was doing a bit more than spattering out, so I had a second cup of tea while I turned a few more pages in my book (Restorative Agriculture – Mark Shepard), and when I looked up again, it had settled down to a steady rain, so I got out my duster and started on house work.  An hour of that was more than enough, and I was rescued around 430 by the arrival home from school of the 16 yr old.  A cup of tea and a chat later, she disappeared to do homework, while I nipped out to get the last of the eggs and shut the hens in.  Have I mentioned we’re finally back in eggs?  About 13/day, all tiny pullet eggs – it’s a bit like russian roulette cracking them open – some are mini double yolkers, some are yolkless altogether.  We did our first egg sales on Saturday in fact, and hubby took a couple of dozen to work today.

Thanks to hubby’s cooking effort yesterday (a magnificent crockpot meal of smoked pork hocks in cabbage and ale, with roast veg and mashed potatoes on the side), there were tons of leftovers, so  today’s supper was a no-brainer – hash. While I was slaving over that, I remembered belatedly that I was supposed to be contributing baked goods to a staff bake sale tomorrow, a fundraiser for United Way.  So I got going on some cranberry muffins and swotted up a recipe that would make a lot of cookies with the ingredients I actually had on hand, so I could dig into that after supper.  Only two of us home, so it  was a casual meal and some convivial washing up. She stuck around till the first batch came out of the oven and then settled into more homework, warm cookie in hand.

The cookie factory wound down around 9 pm, and the kitchen looks normal again.  Hubby and the university girl (he was with clients, she was studying late) are finally on their way home, so we’ve packaged up the ones for the bake sale, stashed the remainder in a cookie jar and kept one or two out for the latecomers.

And that’s the kind of day it’s been here at gloomy, wet, Sailors Small Farm. Definitely a good day to be in a farm house kitchen baking cookies instead of out at sea, with frozen fingers, water dripping off my nose, and damp coming through the seams of the wet weather gear. I don’t miss some of the good old days at all.

Day Three

We had a terrific storm in the night, wind booming in the chimney, torrential rain, the works.  I had seen the forecast and battened down the hatches at dusk, even remembering to bring in the wind chimes, so everything was fine in the morning.

In fact, it was a mild, pleasant morning, not quite sunny, but cool and calm.  I got started around 930 am, after a trip to the feed store for more wire, and continued with the fence between run #4 and #3.  By lunchtime, it was done!  It’s not picture perfect exactly, but it will do the job just fine, and it’s actually sturdier than the picture implies.  I did have to take a short break about 30 minutes before finishing, as I accidentally snipped my finger when I was cutting a piece of wire.  And being inside with clean hands made me think of coffee…

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Ta-da! It looks loose, but really isn’t.

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I usually failed target practice in the military, and apparently I haven’t improved – and staple guns are a whole lot easier to use, you’d think, anyway! I kept missing the wire I was trying to staple…

After a lunch break during which I prepped the veg for the squash soup I was planning for dinner, I got going again, this time to figure out how to do the gate(s) around the pop hole so that I could control which run the birds would have access to. I was a bit stumped, so took some dropped apples out to the birds in the field to give myself a change of pace, and on the way back spotted an old gate hanging off a post near our little old chicken house out back – swamped in blackberries.  It only took a few minutes to clamber through it all and pull it off it’s hinges.  A couple of nails and some wire and it will be just fine for one of my two gates.  And it provided the pattern for how to make the other gate.  Fifteen minutes with a saw and a drill, and the second gate was done.  I had a better accuracy score with the staple gun too, when I put the wire on.

Despite saying yesterday that I would be using three gates, I’ve figured out how to do it with two. Not only that, using a rebar fence post, I found the edge of the big rock that was impeding progress yesterday, and was able to pound in a T-post in a spot that will hold one of the gates beautifully.  However, the bigger, older gate still needs to have wire put on it, because around 4pm, the rain started again, and got serious within about 20 minutes, so I decided to call it a day and go get the squash soup going.

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Just for show, it’s not attached to anything yet.

Tomorrow that gate will be finished, I will figure out how to attach them both, and the run will be ready.  I should be able to prep the lobby for them too tomorrow, and then maybe tomorrow night I can hire some family members and catch the birds in the field pens to install them in their winter quarters.

I guess because I’ve lived with the whole set up for so long, I didn’t really notice how patched together everything around here seems to be – in the photo of the gate, that plywood being held with a prop has been like that for years – the weather drives into the lobby kind of making it useless as dry shelter, so we put that board up “temporarily” and never did any more with it.  Part of the reason for that is that it has been a pain getting through the moveable fence “gates” that we’ve been using till now to get to this side of the hen house.  No more!  My new gates will change all that.  I hope.

Henny once again spent the day inside, I tossed her an apple which she accepted with enthusiasm, downy feathers wafting around her as she leapt down the perches to get to it.  She’s in for a shock when the pullets join her.

Day Two

Not such dramatic accomplishment today, but still made some progress. Day Two was all about coming to grips with the disintegrating fences in the chicken runs.  I need at least one run with intact fences that will keep flighty pullets from jumping over and into my neighbour’s garden.

Though it was on my calendar, I was so focussed on my 5 day race that I forgot that I had committed to a one hour stint at work at 9 am this morning, to do the opening routines while my boss hosted a couple of our higher up bosses for a tour of our library.  I got there a little late, but got it covered.  So I didn’t really get started on Day Two until after my coffee when I got home, about 1030.  Thus fortified, I launched into the day.

Things that got done:

1.  Decided which of the four runs to focus on this week.  I picked run #4, it already has string webbed across the run to deter eagles and the perimeter fence is in good shape.  Just need to work on the fence between #4 and #3 run.

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Run #4 on the left, standing in #3.

2.  Figured out how I’m going to close off one run and open up another around the pop hole that leads to #4, #3, and #2 runs.  The answer is 3 people sized gates, which will hang off posts at the end of each run by the hen house.  I will make the gates after the 5 day race is over (unless by some miracle I end up with spare time!).  I hit a snag with the plan around lunch time when I attempted to pound the second post in, using the pounder I borrowed from Hay Guy, and bent the post hitting a rock about a foot down.  I moved over a tad, and found the same rock – 4 times, ruining two posts. So, clearly this plan needs to be adapted a little.

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Bent post 😦

3.  Moving on, I took out all the wire on the fence between #4 and #3 that was patched, broken or holey.  This left me with a stretch near the chicken house of about 15 feet that needs to be completely re-wired.  The rest of the fence looks fine, but is very low in places.  I have decided to get a roll of 3 ft wire tomorrow to add to the top of this fence.  I also put in three T-posts on this fence line, removing the short portable electric fence posts I’d had there before.

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Post pounder on the left – it’s about 4 ft long, and weighs a LOT. Metal tube with a cap welded on. I have trouble lifting it off the post when I’m done – I feel like I’m caber tossing. I frankly think this thing could double as a battering ram.

4.  I started installing new wire.  This is high enough, and being 1″ mesh, is sturdier than the 2″ mesh I had on this fence before, but I’ll still have the issue with sagging at the top in a year or two. Long term goal is to switch to square mesh.  For the remaining fences that will have to be done over the winter, that’s what I’ll use.

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Actually got some wire up, and the brambles took a beating.

5. I got some of the brambles clipped back around the area I was working in, when trying to get posts in for the future gates, but there’s a lot more of that to do.

This was all pretty simple stuff, but took a surprising amount of time.  The rain started sporadically around 4, and at 430 I caved and had a tea break to catch up with the familys’ doings at school and work, then went and put tools away and did chores, as the rain started to get more serious.

Henny decided today that having been living wild for 3 or 4 weeks, she is content to be an indoor chicken for a bit and refused to leave her lovely clean hen house.  This could have something to do with the fact that she is clearly moulting.  Why do chickens do this just when the weather starts to turn cold and nasty?   I’ve always wondered.