Wednesday, March 28, 2012

One project down, many more to go.....

Yesterday we finally completed our chicken coop/tractor and brought it home precariously strapped to my dad's rickety trailer (with no lights, in the dark - it was suspenseful). Here it is!

It's 8x4x2 with a 4x4 house on top. Inside are two roosts and two nesting boxes. There is a ramp to the house, one door on the front, wheels on the back, and two dowels to hoist and roll it around the yard.

The plywood we used for the house and door were untreated, so we applied a few layers of exterior latex paint, in this case "roadster blue" from Lowe's. I think it looks right nice! I may get really creative and add a stenciled border or something.      Eventually.....

I chose this blue because it reminds me of the blue that covers most state park residences and buildings. (Except for our house, of course - see previous post)

This morning we added the chickens!

The golds checking out the ramp.

It will only be holding 5 chickens once I distribute the rest of them, but for now it fits all 19 comfortably. It's been such a mild spring, they will be find out there with a heat lamp inside the house.

I am also thrilled to have them out of our house.

If anybody sees this blog and is interested in copying our design, feel free to shoot me an email.

Yesterday we picked up the plants for our park butterfly garden.

The butterfly garden was a project I worked on for several years as Seasonal Naturalist. I converted the previously mowed areas at the front of the Visitor's Center in to a 3,000 square foot native plant butterfly garden. It was quite an undertaking, and these days it's just a matter of upkeep.

Every year we typically use Iris Fund money to incorporate additional plants. I think it has been a huge success - attracting all stages of butterflies, and encouraging people to linger and ask questions.

Today we planted Dutchman's pipevine, phlox, goldenrod, coreopsis, verbena, asters and two wafer ash trees. We started at 10am and wrapped up around 6:30.     Wow.     We are tired.

Tomorrow we will try to take it easy..... as best we can.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Chicken Tractor Project

So we've been ruminating over our movable chicken pen (otherwise known as a chicken tractor) for some time. With the chicks growing bigger everyday, and our house starting to smell like a chicken coop, the need became more urgent to get the project going.

We sat down, sketched out our design and then it was off to Lowe's.

We took all the materials to my parents' place so we could use my dad's power tools (and my dad himself).

That is one proud master chicken coop designer. :)  This is about where we left off yesterday. All that's left is to install the doors and paint it. Then it should be chicken-ready!

In other news we purchased our long awaited local goat milk share on Saturday.

I've had raw goat's milk before, but this doesn't even compare. It's so sweet and nutty, and I'm ready to reap the health benefits!

Welp, it's gonna be another unseasonably warm March day, and I've got lots of stuff to do! Hopefully the coop will be done by this afternoon and I can post a picture of the finished product.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Our Cabin in the Woods

Let's face it. Our house isn't perfect. It sits at the bottom of a long list of to-do's for the state. It's not so important to them whether we have a rotting deck, attached gutters, lack of storm protection, or safety from brown recluse bites (been there, done that). The list can go on and on.

Instead of the typical state park blue color, our house the shade of sallow bile.

Water pressure is pitiful. The floors uninsulated. Ancient appliances (including an oven that is impossible to clean).

We have critters of every description living (and galloping) in the attic.

We are 30 miles from everything, so in order to save gas we have to plan trips into town carefully.

I'm not necessarily complaining, although I do at times.

Because there are certainly advantages to where we live.

I've been trying to focus on the positive things. So to help me re-orient my perception, I try to think of our house as our own "cabin in the woods." You certainly expect a cabin to have some rustic qualities. After all, it's the location that makes it special.

And it certainly is an amazing location.

When I get up in the morning and step out on my [rotting] deck with my cup of coffee, I hear nothing but the chorus of birds all around me. From our vantage point, the dramatic ridges of the eastern highland rim line the horizon. Mature forest as far as the eye can see. The lake sparkling in the distance. We have no close neighbors (except other rangers). Our backyard is 6,000 acres of wilderness that will never be anything but wilderness.

At night we fall asleep to the sound of owls, crickets, coyotes and katydids in the summer. I roll over and gaze out the window where I can see thousands of sparkling stars. Or the moon rising over the ridgetop and casting shadows of trees on our lawn.

Right now I can hear the wind from a passing storm blowing through the trees. No honking horns. No blaring music. Just........ peace.

It is truly something I am thankful for, even though I get frustrated sometimes by everything that our house is NOT.

So I stop and think..... this is our own cabin in the woods.

This is home.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reptiles equal Healthy Gardens?

Sustainability can fit into just about any model involving living things. Including reptiles, I've come to find.
Onyx the Argentine tegu - one of the features from the NHECM's World of Reptiles.

I used to pa ruse the pet stores for feeder mice and rats, but as I accumulated more snakes I was spending up to $40 on feeders per trip. I decided that was too much. How hard can mice be to raise, really?

As it turns out, not difficult at all. Rodents are pretty much at the bottom of the food chain in nature. Providing food for everything from birds of prey to coyotes. To compensate for this they reproduce at an astonishing rate. So they're pretty good at making babies. I had mice galore, and very happy snakes.

This is Pearl, our albino California King. By the way, old snake mulch also gets tossed on the compost pile.

As my snakes got bigger, I started to need rats. The biggest feeder rats cost $10 each. No thanks. So I added rats to our rodent farm. When I have the rest of my carnivorous critters from the NHECM, they also partake of the rodent feast.

To keep costs to a minimum I get big bales of pine shavings from farm supply stores (usually 4-5 dollars) and buy 30lb bags of rabbit pellets, black oil sunflower seed, scratch grains and dogfood that I mix myself and lasts forever.

My costs are negligible. I have a healthy, home grown food source for my reptiles, and an abundance of used bedding for the compost pile.

Weekly cage cleanings (a must if rodents are kept in the house) produce a LOT of bedding. Add to this fresh kitchen scraps and lawn clippings, and it produces one heck of a compost pile! I spread this on all my plants, and it works like a charm.

One of my potted blueberries in bloom

To add to this I will have chicken bedding and eventually rabbit manure. So as our menagerie grows, so can our gardens.

The chicks enjoying their new roost

Seems pretty sustainable to me!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Last day of "Winter"

The redbuds are in full swing in the park. It's the most refreshing color after nothing but shades of brown for months. I learned the flowers are edible, supposedly good tossed into oatmeal or pancake batter. High in protein and vitamin C. Not much flavor, though.

In fact we are virtually surrounded by an edible garden. The other day a boiled up a pot of chicken broth and tossed in some chopped dandelion root. This much despised "weed" is actually one of the healthiest things you could ever eat.

Speaking of gardens the chicks have been enjoying the fresh air and sunshine among the sprouting veggies.

We are raising 19 total - a mixture of black & gold sex-links and welsummers. We won't be keeping ALL of these, of course. Probably 5. The rest are going to my parents and my brother's family. Our own pastured eggs! I'm excited.

On a slightly random note, I want one of these:

We don't own a lawn mower because we don't mow our yard - maintenence does that. Nice, I suppose, but we have certain areas we want to leave natural, and they always seem to hack away at them. Nothing personal, they just get a little mow-happy. If we get one with the catch basket (or whatever it's called) I can actually dump the clippings in the compost or dry them for hay (when we have rabbits). And it would be a nice workout. One which, I'm sure, Mark will appreciate. Not to say he'll be the only one using it, of course....

Another adventure we'll (hopefully) be emarking on this week is tapping into a source of raw milk! I'm excited. I've always liked the idea of having milk goats, but have just never been ready for that "marriage." This is a case where animal "husbandry" is aptly named.

We would literally have no life, outside of the milking barn. So we'll be doing the next best thing, purchasing a share and letting somebody else do the work. Sweet.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

An Introduction

Bluetooth Hollow? I pondered for some time over what to name my blog. My primary motiviation for this place is to journal the goings-on of our unique lives. I enjoy writing so I would be perfectly happy to type away without the promise that somebody would read it. But it is my hope that any readers would get something out of it.

So why Bluetooth Hollow? I met my husband at the park six years ago. I began work here as a seasonal naturalist, with him as my supervisor. Needless to say we hit it off and the rest is history.

He has worked here as a ranger for almost ten years. After he got the job he discovered his close ties to the land. His ancestors had settled along the shores of the Caney Fork River (now Center Hill Reservoir) many years ago. One of the hollows was named for a Taylor nicknamed "Bluetooth." He raised a particular breed of horse that was locally famous (now extinct, as far as we know), known as Bluetooth horses. He got the unusual nickname from getting smacked in the face while yoking an ox. One of his teeth died and turned blue, hence the name.            Kind of gross, really.

I felt it was appropriate.

So what all can you expect from this blog? Being married to a park ranger makes life interesting enough. It's such a unique and dynamic occupation. Mark does everything from law enforcement, wildlife management, EMT work, search and rescue, educational programming, wildfire management and the list goes on, and on.

I've worked as a dog groomer, alpaca farmhand, dog obedience trainer, nanny, naturalist and wildlife presenter.

I can't seem to be without animals for very long, and a menagerie follows me everywhere I go. Luckily Mark likes animals too, or he would have kicked me to the curb long ago.

We currently have 5 dogs (2 rat terriers, a boxer mix, a lab/bouvier mix and a German Shepherd), 8 snakes, 1 gecko, and new flock of peeping chicks. During the summer months that number is almost doubled when I'm housing all the herps from my presentation job. More to come on that later.....

Our back 40 consists of over 6,000 acres of wilderness around the Center Hill Reservoir. It is a beautiful place to live with its steep ridgetops, beautiful lake, and abundance of spring birds and wildflowers. We live in a simple 70's constructed house, provided by the state. It sits somewhat precariously on top of a ridge that is a magnet for straight-line winds and lightning strikes. It is also infested with brown recluse spiders and the occasional scorpion, but it's still home-sweet-home.

I'll try to keep my entries short, as I tend to be long-winded. So I will resume tomorrow with more day-to-day specifics. As for now, another March storm is rolling in over the lake.........