Monday, May 30, 2016

Lucky Sweetheart, the green chicken

There I was, minding my own business, when in the parking lot of Car Toys, across from the largest mall in the area was a chicken...  no, that's not the start of a joke.  Seriously.  There was a chicken.

Now she is mine.

For Mother's Day, I had requested that I have the Blue Tooth stereo installed in my van (you know, the one I got for Christmas).  I really enjoy music but being not tech savvy at all, I wanted this professionally done.  So off to Car Toys we went.  My husband specifically drove to the one in the city.  He said they had a better customer service track record.  So we go in, our instillation is no problem, and we make the appointment for the next morning.  As we leave the parking lot, husband says "Um, look, there's a chicken...."  Sure enough, I look up and there is this sweet pullet, walking across the parking lot of Car Toys, which is between a 5 lane road and I-5, our main interstate.  I jump out of the car, walk up to this bird and just pick her up before she became roadkill.  I was immediately sure she was a pet.   She also was covered with green paint.  

See that green paint that is still (a week later) all over her back?

We have several guesses as to why she ended up on the side of a busy 5-lane road but the most common one is that people were spray painting the house or fence green and she got spooked over the fence somewhere.  I am glad I got to save her, but sad someone else lost such a sweet bird.   

I added her, reluctantly, into our flock that night.  I have never added one chicken into an entire flock of full-grown hens before...  but the transition was the easiest I have ever had.  Within two days, she was full incorporated and was picking up queues like the calls for treats at the back door and where to lay the eggs... which she did.  From day one.

She has now settled in very nicely and really enjoys those sunny moments with me on the porch.

And really, what a cool story!


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Vacation 2016

Our vacation was incredibly beautiful!  Happy May, everyone!


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Nature Study - Junco Babies and the Cruel Reality of Nature

Nature can be so brutal.  Homesteading requires a certain connection to nature.  Feeling the rhythm of the seasons and observing more about my hardworking space has become paramount to success of growing food in our neighborhood backyard.

This year we have had a ton of firsts on our quarter-acre homestead.  First pears on our trees, first try at a clover lawn, first time problem solving because a garden bed wouldn't even sprout seeds, but best of all, our first birds nest. 

 A sweet mama junco decided that the center of our garden was the perfect place to make a nest and raise her babies.  I was SO excited.  I can't even tell you how often I have wanted my space to be a sanctuary for birds.  Especially after the Cedar Waxwing fiasco (cat) from a few years ago and the chicken deaths of last summer (puppy).  I have spent a lot of time making my predator pets louder and my space safer for my feathered friends, domestic and wild.

The space the mama junco chose happened to be in the very center of my garden pathway tucked into the pot I dedicated to a very invasive variety of mint.  (You can see the pot behind the gate.)

When she made the nest, it was a nice green patch, but as the weather has gotten warmer the mint has gotten leggy and I knew that the cats would eat her and the babies if they could.  So I put a cage around the outside of the nest to keep the cats out. 

We had such fun watching the mama after the babies hatched!

Every day I would go out there, with or without camera, to check on them.  While their eyes were closed they would open their mouths to the sky at the slightest disturbance to the mint patch or makeshift fence.  And seriously, how ugly cute are these sweet pink bodies?

Back and forth, back and forth, all day long the mama would bring them food.  She also came to the feeder for her own nourishment and I was sure to keep the feeder stocked with junco favorites like black-oil sunflower seeds and suet cakes.

Yesterday I noticed that they had started peeping loudly whenever mama would drop off a mouthful.  I wondered how smart that was with them being so exposed.  I also noticed that the mint was wilting and flowering.  Making the root area sparse.  I wondered briefly if I should water the mint to give them a slight amount of cover.  I have no idea if that would have helped or not, but I didn't do it because I was worried about making the nest and babies wet.

Apparently they were just exposed enough to be temptation for a predator.   Because this morning, the nest is destroyed and the babies are gone.  We only found one and it was dead.  I believe it was a cat.  I am really hoping it wasn't the one I worked so hard to keep out of the darn garden.

Being in love with nature is a real double edged sword.  On one hand, I absolutely loved watching them.  I loved seeing them get bigger, watching the mama (and in the last two days the daddy has been feeding them too!)  It was a delight to share this bit of space with such a dedicated mama.  Which made it even more heartbreaking finding one dead on the ground. Often times, homesteading means being more aware of your space and what is happening in it.  And that has emotional effects when something goes wrong.  Tears have been shed, hearts hurt.  

Especially when we noticed the mama carrying around bugs all morning, wondering why the calls of her babies never came.  

My beautiful back yard will be a sobering space for a few days.

Sometimes nature can be just brutal.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Biology & Nature Study - Praying Mantis Babies

When you homeschool, nature is your classroom.  Each time something breeds, or hatches, or blooms in your yard, you can use it as a object lesson for your kids and believe it or not, they learn a TON just from your small, sweet space!  

A few weeks ago, I bought a set of praying mantis egg casings from a local garden store.  We have hatched them before but I never cease to be amazed at how these incredible creatures grow!  I usually get hatching creatures every time I have a preschooler/kindergartner.  We have grown lacewings, ladybugs, ants, mantis, frogs, and several more I can not remember and each time I learn SO much! 

The first time we studied mantis, Luke was just a baby (now 5).  We did the lesson with the understanding that the lesson may be done long before the mantis hatched because it said on the package '2-4 weeks'.  We hung them carefully in our classroom sized butterfly house and waited.  Logan sprayed them with water each morning as instructed and we carefully watched and waited some more.  We finished the lesson and did a lapbook on mantis and waited some more.  Finally we moved on to stick bugs and the mantis eggs started to get neglected.

Our unit study on Praying Mantis from 2012


As most things in nature, when left on their own they decide to finally do their thing.  One morning, 9 weeks later, we were doing school work when Logan screeches from the office that the mantis have hatched! We quickly went and bought food for them from the pet store (they eat similar things to very small lizards so most pet stores will have mantis food) and came home to watch them eat.  It was boring at first, but when they started hunting it was amazing to watch!  Tiny babies, doing the things that we had seen before only on the nature channel.

When we woke up the next morning, however, 90% of them were dead on the bottom of the habitat and we realized that they were also eating each other!  YIKES!  We quickly put them outside.  What a lesson!  

This time around, we were far more lax about the way we handled these cool little creatures....  We lost them.  Yes.  I lost a set of praying mantis egg cases in my house for 3 weeks.  I was just waiting to start seeing mantis babies all over my house, because each egg case holds up to 250 babies!  Just the thought gave me the creepy-crawlies! 

 About a week ago we found the tupperware with the egg cases tucked nicely into an office bookshelf that made oh-so-much sense to me to put them there.  Thank goodness, they were still intact!

Then we started our study.  

Knowing that they probably wouldn't hatch for weeks, I took my time.  One day we drew them, the next day we looked up videos, another day I searched for the Wild Kratts episode (89) that they share facts on the mantis.  All this time, the tupperware with the little egg cases in it was sitting on my dining room table.  

I still had the coloring pages on the table when I noticed crawling things in the mantis container....  I must have noticed just hours after it happened because we released hundreds of live mantis babies into our rose garden that day!  

This study, although more lax, was much more successful than the last time we had these creatures to observe.  This morning I went out and quite a few are still around, hunting aphids on my roses and hanging out close, but not too close, to their hatchmates.  They have started to get darker exoskeletons and have gotten a little bit bigger already. 

I feel like, although we didn't do as much book work, we still were able to learn a whole lot from these critters.  Nature is the best teacher!
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