Friday, May 27, 2011

Bobcat Prevention - Quick Chicken Pergola

A couple of months ago, we lost one of our chickens. And the bobcat sightings have since still been occurring from time to time around our neighborhood. Sometimes it's just a lone adult, but also a half-grown young one is around too. Since the female had to get pregnant somehow, it's probably safe to say there are now at least three in the area.

Yesterday afternoon, I was out working in the yard when a neighbor driving by stopped to talk. The day before, they'd come home to complete carnage inside their chicken coop. They have cameras on the outside of their house, and when they ran the film back to around noon, they could see an adult bobcat bounding across the yard and jumping the 6-foot chicken pen fence easily. After swatting down a couple of the chickens in the yard, it then followed where the rest had fled into the coop, killing 20 of their 25 birds.

Yesterday evening, Aries was out in front of our house when he heard and saw a couple of magpies raising a ruckus coming down our street. They were diving and squawking at an adult bobcat as it walked down the middle of the road. When it came even with the front of our house, he tossed a couple of rocks at it. It headed up the hill into the sagebrush, magpies still squawking and diving overhead.

When Aries got home from work today, the magpies were squawking in the neighbors' tree. He walked down to check, then came back to get me and the camera. The young bobcat was sitting up there IN the magpies' nest, ignoring the squawking magpies hopping about overhead, calmly looking down at us. Momma was probably somewhere nearby.

Our neighbor called the Sheriff's Office, asking if there was anything they could do. Dispatch told her it was a holiday weekend; they had neither time nor personnel to deal with a bobcat up a tree. Neighbor called the state Division of Wildlife and they too would do nothing. Furthermore, neither could she. Despite the livestock predation, if she wanted to shoot or trap a bobcat, she'd first need to apply for a permit, 'else face poaching charges.

We left the cat up the tree and walked home. After hearing about how easily bobcats can jump 6-foot fences, that they're active even during mid-day, and that they'll kill for sport instead of just hunger, Aries decided maybe putting a top on our chicken pen might be a good idea. We still had about 3 hours of daylight, lots of wood in the scrap pile, and bits and pieces of wire fencing. It was kind of like erecting a makeshift pergola over the top of the pen. We had some really long 2x4's salvaged from when we re-built the deck a couple of years ago. Using a 1½" drill bit, Aries cut holes in the ends of some of those to fit on top of the t-posts on either side of the pen. More long pieces were then laid crossways over the top of those, with an upright center post for extra support.

The bits and pieces of wire were then patchworked over that. Lastly, we tied everything together on top and to the sides. Amazingly, we were finished by sunset. It's not pretty. Some of the boards we used were really weathered and some were warped and twisted. We'll probably have to re-work everything later on in the year to make sure it's strong enough to withstand the weight of next winter's snows. The guineas and our four half-feral chickens aren't going to like not being able to fly out, either. But I feel a bit better knowing our flock is perhaps a bit safer.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ants Love Electricity?

I've heard ants are attracted to electricity, but never seen any evidence until today. I started my tender vegetable seedlings inside my spare room a couple of months ago. Once they had germinated, I set them up under lights plugged into a timer. Today, I moved the plants outside for a bit, hardening them off in preparation for setting out after Memorial Day.

Since the lights were no longer needed, I started breaking everything down to store for another year. When I unplugged the timer from the wall plug, tiny little piss-ants came just pouring out of it. I ran to get that timer outside, ants swarming over my hand (and biting, too! nasty little creatures!). I set it out in the middle of the yard on an upturned bucket, and went back in to take a second look at the outlet. There were a few ants wandering around the plug, but it looked like the majority of them had been inside the timer. When Aries got home from work, he took the outlet faceplate off and pulled the outlets out of the junction box a bit (he's a facilities engineer at work, so knows about safely working around electricity).

That wall is an outside cinder block wall, so there are hollow spaces inside, built on a cement slab floor. Checking with a flashlight, he could see some more ants at the back of the box, using the wiring for a highway, probably coming up inside the wall from the dirt outside through a crack in the mortar. We vacuumed up all we could see (but they didn't seem to have come inside beyond the plug and the timer connected to it), and then he sprinkled a bit of boric acid inside the box. He left everything apart so we can check it again tomorrow.

Outside, the timer rattled inside when I shook it, and the ants still kept pouring out. Knocking it against my hand over the white bottom of the bucket, I shook out a bunch of pale little ant eggs. They'd turned that timer into a nursery! I shook it and rapped it until it seems like it's empty, but it's going to stay outside for a while anyway. Yuck! I'm just amazed that the timer kept turning - it kept perfect time. (Note: Aries took the timer apart and cleaned it out completely - now I can put it away without getting the shudders.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Custom Solar Light Brackets

Our home is just rural enough to be beyond the sidewalks, streetlights and sewer system; just urban enough that the parking lot lights of the businesses along the highway two blocks away light up the night sky. Unfortunately, all that eye-level light pollution makes it doubly hard around here to see the ground underfoot after dark.

After 20-some years of marriage, Aries and I have a finely-tuned poultry-care system. He's an early riser, and so are the chickens - he makes sure they have fresh water and food, then opens up the coop each morning. I take the evening shift - making sure everyone is in for the night, then closing up pen, coop, and nest boxes.

Oft-times, depending on my schedule, it's full-on dark before I head down to put the chickens to bed. Our lot is on a bit of a slope. The house and garage are at the top, with everything to the east downhill from that. There are steps from the deck and patio down, a sloping dirt ramp over on the garage end of the lot. Maybe it's because I'm getting older, maybe it's because there are more and more lights shining above the neighbors' house. But I've become much more nervous and cautious going down either flight of dark steps. I thought about painting a white stripe on the edge of each step, but didn't like the way that would look, nor would it hold up to winter-time snow shoveling. The same arguments worked against attaching a silver metal edging. Adding more light at my feet, to counteract the glare in my eyes, seemed the best solution.

So I'd been shopping for solar lights. I found a four-pack of medium-brightness ones I liked. As with most all I saw, they're designed as landscape lighting, with a pointy piece to stick into the ground. But I wanted them to illuminate my hardscape. I figured it would be no problem to find brackets to attach them to the edge of the steps. And that's where I was wrong. Despite checking all my local home stores, and even searching on-line, I couldn't find a thing. Luckily, I have a husband with a garage full of tools, plus a stash of wood scrap that more than equals my fabric stash. I can sketch out an idea, show him where I want it to go, and he'll make something that both works and looks nice. So now we have solar lights with custom brackets lighting up the steps down from both the deck and the patio ends of the house.

Using a bit of wood for a base, he drilled a hole part-way through to hold the light post. The post diameters were a weird metric size - too big for a 7/8" bit, but smaller than one inch. Rather than chisel out the extra from the smaller hole, he used the 1-inch bit and then shimmed the post with a wrapping of black electrical tape around the bottom. For the floating deck stairs, the brackets are attached to the edges of two of the wooden steps with glue and screws. On the patio stairs, the square wooden blocks are just set on either side of the stairs on the bricks that make up the sides. I set a smaller brick atop each wood block, behind the light post, to make sure the wind can't blow them over. They're great! The light of the full moon also has everything lit up lately, so I'm patiently waiting for the dark of the moon to see just how much light they provide. But I do feel so much more relaxed and secure going down either flight of steps in the dark now.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Thinning and Transplanting

A series of cold fronts coming through dropped our low night temperatures into the mid 20'sF. While once again frustrating my dreams of a bountiful fruit crop this year, it is completely normal for high-desert weather in mid-May (and sometimes, even for mid-June, perish the thought). What little bit - lettuces, spinach, peas, and alliums - I have growing out in the vegetable garden seems to have come through ok so far.

I haven't set out my cole crops - broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, choi, radicchio, and tuscan kale - but plan to do so within the next week. Most catalogs say to plant very early for a Spring harvest; again in early August for a Fall harvest. I've never had any luck with that. I just plant everything once and hope to stretch the harvest season until October through varying the length of growth periods on some things (like cabbage - I plant both an early and a late variety), and cut-and-come-again harvests on others (like the kale and broccoli).

I did some thinning and transplanting of the cole seedlings a couple of weeks ago, writing about that here, on the SGF Co-op blog. Since then, I've been hardening them off - moving them out to the table on the deck daily, bringing them back in to the kitchen counter at night. I now have some sturdy little plants with separate, compact root balls to set out.

Yesterday, I thinned and transplanted my warm weather seedlings. Even though the night before had been cold, the temperature warmed up to a nice 60F. Overcast and still, with no bright sun or drying winds to crispify the roots, the operation took place outside on a big salvaged cable spool I use as a potting table. Even so, I tried to move quickly whenever I had the roots of any tiny seedling exposed. Some looked a bit poorly and limp as I moved them back inside, under the lights (my temporary setup: a pair of ladderback chairs, a plank, and lights suspended by a couple of curtain rods), but all had perked right up by this morning.

Some of my seeds never did germinate. I ended up shopping for a few plants this weekend - more bell peppers, plus some eggplants, Anaheim chiles, one Habanero chile, and one Sweet 100 tomato. To save money when I buy plants, I look for the little individual pots with more than one plant growing in them, and then separate them out myself, same as I do with my own seedlings. I'll give everything another week or so under the lights, to give the roots time to re-establish. Another week or two of gradually increasing hardening off out on the deck, and everything should be ready to set out in early June.