March marched by, April close behind

Bee workshop

Checking the beehives at the start of the season.

Lately it seems like I have nothing new to add to the digital universe. Then I sit down to write so my mom doesn’t think I’ve disappeared off the face of the planet, and the post goes on and on. Digital noise or content? You decide. Here’s what’s been going on at the ranch:

Goose in a bucket

It's hard to imagine how this goose even got in the bucket without up-ending it. That particular day, their kiddie pool was frozen over.

The critters are looking good. The geese started laying eggs in March. Goose breeding is not an elegant affair. They prefer to do it in their kiddie pool. It took them a while to figure it out–one of the first attempts had a male riding backwards on the back of a female. They apparently figured it out, since the girls won’t lay until they are mated. I can’t explain why the females tolerate regular near-drownings from these punks–the males have gotten really testy from their hormones (is that where that idiom comes from?) and competition amongst themselves. And forget about the idea of them mating for live. What we have out there is a polyamorous flock with no apparent loyalty.

There are a couple mountain lions hanging about far too close to our place. One f our neighbors lost a ewe this spring not to far from here. Slate is on extra lock-down right now, although if he stays between the geese at our place and the llamas at our neighbor’s, he’s probably ok. We do have a “skunk kit” ready to deploy some enchanted evening when he slinks home after that inevitable encounter. Baby chicks are on order for April, ducks in May, turkeys in June. I like eating poultry.

Ditch burning

We got some help burning the ditches before irrigation season started. Last year, R spent three days doing the cleaning with a shovel, precious weekend days that were saved by 15 minutes with a match.

A bunch of stuff is getting done here at the ranch. We are digging an irrigation impoundment-ok, Wes and Aaron are digging, we are just paying. It should help us manage our water turns for the Bluebird orchard, and allow us to use some technology rather than brute force to do the watering. I used up my ration of brute force last year.

Ditch burning

Safety first

I don’t think I ever wrote what happened when they burnt the ditches leading to our property last year. That’s when I met the new fire chief at 4 in the morning. I was up (not unusual) and looked out the window (somewhat unusual), where I saw a line of shrubs on fire like roman candles going off (definitely not usual) on our neighbor’s property. The cleaning crew had done a good job of putting out the fire when they burned it, but it had flared up again at dusk. The volunteer fire department had come and doused it really well. What no one knew was the fire was still smoldering in the roots of a dead poplar. I jumped in the truck, drove over and put a hose on it, tried to call the neighbor who had the fire chief’s number. I didn’t want to call 911 if I could help it, which would trigger the fire department siren, rousing the entire town. But the neighbor slept through the whole phone ringing. Then the wind kicked up, and I realized the fire had just surpassed my pay grade. I called, the siren roared out, then I watched lights come on all around town as the good folks of the VFD jumped in their cars and came to my relief with pumper trucks, axes and really big hoses. Not exactly how you want to meet your neighbors, in your pjs at 4 am holding a pathetic little garden hose like a backwards version of the boy with his finger in the dike. This year’s burn was accomplished without incident.



One goal for 2015 is not to work ourselves to a pulp. The snow melted before R finished his snow chicken creation.

It has been far too warm, disturbingly so, and not good for the trees. One big burst of cold took out the apricot fruit again this year. At least for a few days, the bees were happy. We helped host a beekeeping workshop at our place for a group of homesteading-type friends. The bees came through the winter in outstanding shape. The instructor checked one of the hives for varroa mites and didn’t find any, most excellent news. We all got to identify the queen, see the larvae being brooded, and the procedure for the mite test. We should probably get another empty hive so we are ready to divide the biggest one. Even if we don’t have fruit, we should have some honey this year. On the to-do list for spring is planting forage for them, like lavender, sunflower and thyme.

It snowed again this morning. Never complain about water in the desert. However, the garden is going in late. Glad I wasn’t fooled by foolish weather when I wanted to plant peas on St. Patricks Day. At this rate, Cinco de Mayo seems a better bet.

Now that I’m back, I have some fried eggs and ham to show you next.

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Chicago-yup, it’s cold but there’s cider

Chicago skyline at night

Chicago skyline at night

We are at CiderCon, the national conference for cidermakers. Some big snow storm dumped a foot and a half of snow right before we got here. The roads are clear, but it is cold, nasty and not going to improve out there.

All that is the same as last year. What’s different is that, when we picked up our badges, one of the conference hosts told us about the Chicago Pedway, a mostly underground interconnected walkway that runs all over downtown. All sorts of businesses operate in the Pedway, from donuts to dry cleaners. You could literally do 95% of your life business, doctoring, get a key made, grab food and get a massage and never step out into the weather.

The Pedway is short on posted maps–you pretty much have to have a plan on how to get from point A to B, because the phone maps don’t overlay the subway map. Other than that, it’s been a great discovery.

We did do a bit of outdoor walkabout this afternoon during a break, to soak up the Chicago vibe-big architecture, big business, big lake, big wind, big ambitions. We love life on the farm but getting to the big city is energizing every now and again. Not for too long, but there are a few more restaurants and a blues club or two to hit up before we head back to the ranch. In between cider learning, of course.

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Norman the Elder

Norman the Elder cocktail, an original recipe with hard cider and St. Germain liqueur

Norman the Elder cocktail, an original recipe with hard cider and St. Germain liqueur

So I invented a cocktail. I wrote about it in the Stray Arrow Ranch newsletter that went out this week. What newsletter? Glad you asked. Here’s a sample recipe. You can see the most recent issue here and then subscribe here (on the right) if you want to read even more about cider, apples and this evolving business we have going on here. Either way, enjoy a glass of Norman the Elder soon. Salut!

In the glass: Norman the Elder

Not much is happening in the orchard right now. While the trees are dormant, we are playing in the kitchen. Riffing off the French 75 champagne cocktail one evening, R and I invented a cider-based concoction I call “Norman the Elder.” We start with a dry cider-Normandy’s traditional bubbly. St. Germain liquor adds intriguing elderflower aromatic notes and a touch of sweetness. Mix these for your next celebration or make a big bowl for a Wassailing party.

Norman the Elder
for each champagne flute:
4 oz dry cider
.5 oz St. Germain
dash citrus bitters
garnish with blackberries

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Zero. Nada. Empty

Zero Inbox

Zero Inbox

It’s been years since Rich Legg introduced me to my Holy Grail of productivity: the zero inbox. One of my goals for January was to get there. To tend untended business. To stop using the inbox as a to-do list for things I don’t want to do.

I’ve been working on getting to zero for a while and had it down to 10 messages at the beginning of the year. Those last 10 items just dragged on and on. The final one was a simple phone call that I procrastinated on for 6 weeks.

If this sounds like a good idea, there are some good tips in this article on getting unburied. Unsubscribing to vast numbers of things that no longer interested me helped immediately. (Not to mention the commercial spam machines: just because I buy one thing from your company does not mean we are BFF and I want to hear from you every day.) SpamSieve helped even more.

It’s true what the GTD gurus preach about committing to a system. A few months ago I embraced the Calendar program like a long-lost twin. It works, especially if I set reminders when I enter a new appointment. I don’t need to keep those emails to remind me to show up. I still need to decide which program to use for my task list, but it ain’t going to be Apple Mail.

Zero inbox, achieved today at 11:43:44. It feels weird. I keep checking it to see if it’s real. Surely I forgot SOMETHING. It is truly empty. Long may it reign.

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Harbingers of spring and heralds of small victories

Small hollows and last year's leaves shade the snow from the increasing angle of the sun.

Small hollows and last year's leaves shade the snow from the increasing angle of the sun.

We went for a walk in the lovely warm afternoon light. I wish I were motivated by such a pure desire as experiencing the moment. Instead, it was because I got this Misfit Shine fitness tracker and it is kicking my butt. On days I go to the gym, I easily meet my goal, but when I skip the workout, I have to focus on getting more exercise. Which is sort of the point of these devices. I’ve only had it a week and I have met the goal every day (yay me). I’m still thinking about how I feel about being so motivated by this external object.

On our walk into the piñon/juniper uplands nearby, we observed flocks of robins, the first of the year. They call them the harbingers of spring, because it ain’t spring yet. But seeing a robin is as reliable an indicator as the lengthening days and the increasing number of eggs from the hens that spring really is going to come back around.

The geese already have spring fever. We added some nest-making material into their pens for the hens. The books all say they will know what to do with it. The ganders are squabbling, which they have never done before. Jack drove Ike into the electric fence the other morning and I was late to spin class because I had to rescue him. He managed to weave his neck through five wires of the electronet before I got to him. He’s no worse for the wear and has stopped hissing at me. We still haven’t seen any preferences for pairs yet. Maybe this is such a tight group they’ll just form a polyamory family and be done with it. In a couple more weeks we should know more about domestic goose pairing than I really care to imagine.

The bees were out today too. I can’t blame them, it was 50 deg. But winter isn’t over yet: it’s supposed to snow next weekend. I wonder how the Misfit Shine will count snowshoeing. Surely that gives extra credit? Let’s hope we get enough snow to find out.

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