Sunday, January 22, 2012

Before our Walk Today

Yeah, Daisy is kinda bored.

You can see the gears turning.

Outside the red poll finches sit at their niger seed feeder.

Pretty Jenny waits patiently.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Summer Freeze

We've had a mostly mild winter so far. This week though temperatures have dropped to minus 35 C, with some minus 50s when wind chill is taken into account.
So far my water pipes froze on Sunday (it was just minus 19 that day, but the wind was from the WNW which apparently is the correct angle to infiltrate the water shed. I spent five hours thawing everything out. My tool for that is a pistol-grip hairdryer, which has proven to be extremely useful. I never use it on my hair though.)  Then the hot water froze on Monday as soon as I got home from work, it froze in the tap before my eyes.* That was easy to thaw however, I just had to remove some mouseproofing flanges from around the pipe and turn on the hair dryer and blow some hot air down there for about 10 minutes. Supervised so it wouldn't burn the floor.

*Don't suggest leaving the taps open for a constant dribble of water, that freezes the drains, see last year's post.

To augment the infrared heater I have in my back room (I really like it, it does what they say it does, heats up the room all at once rather than just directly in front of the heater, plus it is safe to leave on when you are not there, and it's safe to have near pets since it doesn't have any hot parts, the outside is a wooden cabinet.) I like to light a fire in the woodstove.

The floor in that room is usually very cold though since it is above an unheated crawl space. I cover it with kilims and area rugs, but to really take the chill off completely I have a fire in my little wood stove. There is something about a wood fire that makes it more comfortable than any other kind of heating. It is warming without being too drying, and it penetrates like infra-red, warming seemingly from the inside out.

I split some thick poplar stumps to put in the stove and found a summer day frozen in time. These seem to be ants, some of them are still packing sawdust and eggs, frozen mid-stride.

Poplar wood is subject to some kind of beetle or fungal infestation sometimes that turns the wood as light as styrofoam. Maybe that's where it gets the nickname "cottonwood" sometimes (although some species such as black poplar produce catkins of fluffy cottony seeds in the spring which is a more likely source). The infestation seems to happen when the trees are still standing, and it makes the trees so rotten that they eventually get knocked over in strong winds. Trees infested that way are not very good as firewood.

The extreme cold has other bad effects: it freezes car batteries. The typical "block heater" cars are sold with in the north is for warming the engine block and oil, not for keeping the battery warm. You can take the precaution of plugging in your car but that won't guarantee that it will start, since if your battery freezes you will not be able to produce enough electricity for ignition. Then you need a charger or another running battery. And cars with electronics under the hood need a constant supply of electricity from the battery or they will lose their programming, something  I found out in a cold snap a few years ago. That means a costly tow and reprogramming at the mechanics.

Living in a cold climate is expensive one way or another. Either you pay a lot in electricity and damages, or you spend a great deal of time heating everything.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tails of Woe: Pest Control

One challenge encountered when living on a farm is pest control. Normally I don't view nature as a pest, even when it presents coyotes or skunks near the henhouse. My view is that if humans really are smarter, they can outwit most critters with good defense. In my opinion, only humans less smart than their adversaries resort immediately to lethal methods or what the army calls extreme prejudice.

I prefer deterrents.

But living in the middle of the country means you are surrounded by rodentia of various sizes and capabilities. When it is cold or wet, said rodentia love to come inside, just like you or I might. It can sometimes be a challenge to keep the little critters out.

The henhouse is especially vulnerable, since the food silo for chickens must be at chicken-height or just a few inches off the floor. Mice can climb up or down anything and seemingly reach any food that is available. One spring evening when I first moved here,  I left a 4 gallon steep sided pail  in the coop next to the galvanized trash cans I use for food storage and found about 50 to 100 mice in the pail the next morning. It was grotesque. The mice had begun to eat the mice on the bottom (they can't seem to survive long, not even a day without water), and the bottom few inches were a mash of half-eaten mice, with the survivors milling about on top, one of the more disgusting sights I have ever seen in my life.

I did catch a half-pail of mice that way in a highly infested area, but I prefer not to do that again.
Recently I found an amazing product that does an excellent job of mouse deterring.

No, it's not Missy the cat, she exercises only extreme prejudice. The middle artefact also. I have included it since it is my favorite and most reliable manmade mousetrap, infinitely superior to the fingermashing wire Victory traps of yore. It's like a hair clip, and when it catches a mouse (peanut butter makes excellent bait) you just have to take the trap to a disposal site and pinch the clip open. Your fingers never need touch the body.

But the best deterrent I have found so far for household use is the soap Irish Spring, Original fragrance.
I put two bars in my kitchen near their entrances by the pipes (they chewed through the metal flanges to get in) and a hole in the pantry last summer, and have not had a single mouse in the house all winter, when before there would have been one every two days!!

Highly recommended for wherever you can tolerate a fresh minty smell (obviously not the henhouse since it will taint everything, and you don't want your chickens to be blowing bubbles).

For the henhouse I am using a sonic alarm, which was very effective at first. The numbers of infiltrators are increasing slightly from the initial one or two, but they are far below previous levels. You can buy little devices now that are about the size of a nightlight, and they are more effective than the large sonic boxes sold for 20 times the cost.

The Irish Spring solution would be perfect for tractor cabins too -- a neighbor was dismayed to find that mice had made a nest in his combine tractor seat while it was parked in the field (where else would you park it) over the spring and summer. It cost him $800 to replace it, and was a heavy and awkward job to boot. I told him a bar of soap (just open one end of the box and set where desired) might help him out in the future.

Manly yes, but I like it too!! Mice don't.