Archive | September 2015

When The Power Goes Out

a1We live seven miles from town, out in the country with the trees, wildlife and other rural highlights.  A major connector road runs beside us, busy with traffic traveling at high speeds.  The noise can get loud thanks to truck traffic and the endless lines of commuters twice every work day.

Yesterday morning was a rare respite, delivered thanks to a hapless driver falling asleep at the wheel at 3:30 in the morning and taking out a utility pole two miles south of us.  The accident closed down our road for six hours.  Of course, we didn’t have any power.  There was also unusual quiet.  All the heavy trucks, commuters, delivery vehicles, etc, were diverted elsewhere.

As I warmed my coffee outdoors on the burner of my propane grill, I marveled at how quiet the countryside could be.  I could hear the birds singing far off in the woods.  Diverted traffic created barely a whisper, four or five miles away.  I listened to the wind rustle the ferns by the door.  I poured the warm coffee into my favorite North Carolina mug and enjoyed the sounds of nature.

What a wonderful thing the quiet is.  I miss it sorely.  It has not been quiet at the farm since the road was widened and “improved” in 1988.  Even before then the trucks made noise.  They just had to go much more slowly and couldn’t build up the sort of roar they now create.

Over the decades the volume of traffic has risen until now there are as many vehicles passing us daily on the two lane road as go through our town every day on I-95, a four-lane, interstate highway.  I wish something could be done to get rid of the traffic.  Just removing the trucks would greatly improve the sound environment.  Because we live on a hill overlooking a valley and a ridge of similar height a mile away, the sound echoes, greatly amplifying the noise.

I long for the day when electric cars and trucks and the use of trains to transport goods reduces the endless flow of sound past our farm.  Probably won’t live to see it.  That is why every so often I have to get away to somewhere free of roads and traffic.  Where the loudest sound is made by the wind or a noisy bird.  Just to let the silence clear my mind, so I can relax.

By the way, the man who hit the power pole will be fine, although his pickup truck didn’t fare so well.

Green Uranium Depression Glass


Glass made during the 1930s in the US is often called Depression glass.  One of the most interesting types of Depression glass to me is uranium glass.  Various glass manufacturers used small amounts of radioactive uranium to achieve yellow (called Vaseline glass,) green, blue and red colors.  Uranium was even mixed into milk glass to make a pale yellow Custard glass.bel3

Uranium glass can be identified by viewing it under a black light.  It will fluoresce a bright neon green. The glass does emit infinitesimal amounts of radiation.  It should not be used to store food or hold highly acidic food.  It is safe to handle, eat from and store in the home.

bel1This bowl was made by Belmont Tumbler in the 1930s and is the Cameo Rose pattern.  The design is embossed on the outside surface of the glass.  I found the bowl recently in a thrift store for two dollars.  It took me a while to identify the maker.  Several companies made similar patterns including Anchor Hocking, Federal, Indiana, Jeannette and MacBeth-Evans. These glass manufacturers competed with each other, hence the similarity.

Uranium glass was first made in the mid 19th century in Europe.  American glass companies adopted the technique and Vaseline glass, in particular, became quite popular in the 1920s and 30s.  The name derives from the resemblance in color to petroleum jelly.  The US government forced the curtailment of uranium glass during WWII.  Uranium was restricted to government use.  Following the end of the war, some companies resumed uranium glass manufacture.  Today it can still be found in offerings from companies such as Mosser or Fenton.

This piece of uranium glass is currently offered in my eBay store.  It is valued at around $20, due mostly to its rarity.

Update 11/27/16:  the bowl shown above sold for the asking price.  Currently I have the heavy glass candlestick holder for sale. I’m still researching the maker.  Also, the three uranium glass grill plates by L.E. Smith.

Determining The Sex of Baby Rabbits


The baby angora rabbits are nearly old enough to go to their new homes.  They will be weaned in one week and can then leave their mother.  Rabbit breeders must be able to tell the sex of the babies they produce.  Over the years I have shown several people how to sex a baby rabbit.

Telling the gender of a young rabbit can be difficult.  I do not bother trying until they are at least a month old.  Even then I can be fooled into thinking males are females.  By the time they are two months old (at weaning) it is much easier to determine the sex.

The following photos and diagram are provided to help illustrate the differences in anatomy between the sexes of the baby rabbits in the above photo.  I have distinguished three females and two males in this litter.  It is nice to have more females, there is a greater demand for girls than boys.  It only takes one buck to service several females.  It is very important to prospective customers that they receive the proper gender rabbit.  It is also important to separate the sexes when the babies are eight weeks old to prevent any unwanted, very premature, pregnancies.

To determine the sex of a baby rabbit, first hold the bunny on its back, supporting it with one arm and using the hand of that arm to gently push the tail down and away from the genital area.  With the thumb of the other hand very gently press down at the front of the genitals and pull away from the tail area. This will open up the genitals and expose the shape. A little girl has a line, a straight opening, that starts near the anal area and runs up to the end of the genitals.  A boy has a little cone that is expressed and presses upward from the genitals.  The following rough diagram I made demonstrates the differences.e4


female 7 week old rabbit


female 7 week old rabbit

Here are photos of the genitals of baby female and male bunnies from the litter.  Note the position of the thumb that gently depresses and extends the area to expose the anatomy.  The babies are not at all perturbed by this procedure.  Bunnies enjoy being held resting on their backs and stroking their bellies puts them to sleep.

I hope this has been helpful for anyone who finds sexing baby rabbits to be confusing.


male 7 week old rabbit


male 7 week old rabbit

Pumpkins Are Ripening


It took less than a week for the green pumpkins in my garden to turn deep orange.  They are beautiful and now ready to harvest.  There are only six regular pumpkins in my patch, still, plenty for our needs.


Fall 2014 garden produce, cross-breed squashes are in the front

This year I did a little experimenting with saved seeds. Last year a cross-pollination resulted in a strange but beautiful pumpkin-like squash.  It appeared to be a cross between a field pumpkin and a dumpling winter squash, which are white veined with green.

Dumpling winter squash, garden 2014

Dumpling winter squash, garden 2014

The strange squash sprouted up in an area of my old barnyard.  It was likely the result of seeds that fell out of a pumpkin my horses ate two years ago.  They love any squash.

The errant seeds grew and flowered and then were cross-pollinated by a bee or other insect that had just visited the flowers of the dumpling squash.  Such cross-pollinating is common and the reason why different varieties of cucurbits such as cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, gourds or melons, must be grown well away from each other.  The cross in the barn yard produced squashes that looked something like huge dumpling squash, and odd flattened pumpkins with skins patched in orange and green.

The resulting dumpling cross was quite pretty, I thought.  Several were used for decorations during the fall and winter.  The skin turned a creamy yellow with green veining and orange tones.  It was also a great keeping squash, one lasted in the house through the winter and was going strong in May when I opened it to obtain the seeds.

a2a4I planted the seeds in several places around the barn yard, just to see if any would breed true. Sure enough, there are several that look like the parent squash.  Some of the seeds are producing what appear to be straight pumpkins.  All this variety came from the seeds of one cross-bred squash.a5

Since the whitish cross is likely a mix of pumpkin and winter squash, it should be edible.  This year I will cook one and see if it’s tasty.  If it can be eaten, I will save the seeds again and try to develop this strain as a new squash. Should it breed true, it will be exciting to name my own vegetable!

Stump Experiment


Early this summer we cut three sour cherry trees in the orchard that were mostly dead.  There is a fungus in our area that affects cherry trees, causing them to open wounds and ooze reddish sap in big blobs that harden on the bark like tree carbuncles.d3  The stump at right has some of the gummy sap at the top. These trees succumbed to the fungus, in addition to not tolerating being heavily pruned.  My husband sawed the stumps as low to the ground as he could.  Several inches of solid wood still project above the surface, enough obstacle to catch the rotary mower when I’m working in the orchards.

Stumps are difficult to remove.  People burn them out, dig them up or hire expensive stump grinders to get rid of them.  I’ve been researching methods to naturally remove stumps without starting a fire, spending big bucks, or wearing myself out digging.  An alternative method involves introducing chemicals into the stump that speed decomposition.  Commercially available stump removers containing potassium nitrate work to accelerate rotting of the wood, but I want to use something more natural.

d4d5I stumbled across information about using urea, a concentrated nitrogen fertilizer.  d6The fertilizer is in pelleted form and has an analysis of 45-0-0, all nitrogen.  The process is to drill holes in the stump, as deep as possible.  Then the holes are filled with the fertilizer and watered well.  The stump is covered to keep it moist and allow the microbes to flourish.

d2The stump I chose as an experiment is dead, but not very rotted.  The wood is hard with just some central dry punky area.  Using my hand held antique bit and brace I drilled five holes about 1/2″ wide and 6″ deep.  I suspect the more numerous and larger the holes, the better this works, but I’m just experimenting to see if urea causes wood to rot more rapidly.
d8Into each hole I poured urea until they were full.  The weather predictions are for heavy rain overnight and tomorrow so I will let nature take care of the watering of the stump.d9  After the rain and before the wood dries, I will cover the stump with old wet hay, plastic, and some stones to keep the chickens off.  After several weeks, I’ll check the progress of decomposition to see if adding urea has any effect.  Stay tuned…

Good Day For Bunnies


Yesterday evening the five baby angora rabbits had their first adventure in the outdoors.  They went with their mother to the rabbit run.  The area is about three feet by eight feet, plenty of room for five tiny bunnies to explore.  At first they were shy and stayed near mom.b4

Soon, the fawns were ready to try running, jumping and nibbling greens.  Before long they were sniffing at the rabbits on the other side of the fence and even wriggling through the small holes in the chicken wire.  b2After three had squirmed through, I put up some boards to keep them from escaping.

Baby bunnies have lots of energy.  One will throw its head back and start bouncing around as though its hind legs have a will of their own.  Soon the others join in.  They dart in random directions, sometimes bumping into walls or each other as they learn to control those strong hind legs.

b1Then it’s time for a rest and a quick snack. Rabbits love to chew up grass, clover, dandelion, and tender plantain leaves.  It is advisable to make sure no toxic plants such as burdock, milkweed or nightshade are available because rabbits like to taste almost anything.  Little bunnies are especially adventuresome about trying to eat whatever is around.

As the fawns mature, the one colored baby begins to stand out.  Four are albinos with pink eyes.  b5The other is a male with color points, meaning the nose, ears and possibly tail and feet contrast with the rest of the coat color.  This baby gets darker all the time.  The coat is very light beige with the points currently looking pale gray-brown.  I would call him a lilac point.  His eyes are blue.  As he grows, the colors may deepen.

This is the first color point angora I have produced in about twenty years of breeding rabbits.  He is very cute and loves to cuddle. It is hard to resist keeping him, but I have no does for him to mate.  I’m trying to reduce the herd to one buck and three does.  Holding on to him because he is cute and unusual would be very silly. Next spring we will try again for a chocolate doe.

What’s New in the Garden


At the beginning of September, the weather still is in high summer mode.  Yesterday was nearly 90F with high humidity and today won’t be much cooler.  The garden plants are taking full advantage of these few remaining warm days, ripening their fruits and grains.  Today I will pick the wax beans and hope to get enough for dinner.  I leave the plants in the ground as long as they want to blossom.  They still produce some, just not the abundance of their main crop.

gar2The tomatoes are producing well.  I harvest them before they are completely ripe to stay ahead of rodent varmints that eat holes in the juicy red fruit.  Most of the foliage has disappeared from the tomatoes, I suspect hornworms have been at work.  They can strip the leaves overnight.  With the fruit so close to maturity, the foliage is not that important any more.

gar4I counted six big pumpkins ripening!  Plenty to fill our Halloween needs. The largest pumpkin must weigh about 15-20 lbs and is just starting to get an orange cast to the skin.  As temperatures cool the orange will spread quickly.

gar7gar8There are also winter squash, an acorn variety, and Jack-Be-Little miniature pumpkins coming along. It was a slow year for squash so there are less than usual. I planted seeds on the manure pile from a mutant squash that volunteered last year.  It was a cross of a pumpkin and summer squash.  Some fruit is visible, growing quickly.  Will have to wait and see what is produced.

gar6The Indian corn is loaded with large ears thanks to hot and humid days throughout much of July and August.  It looks to be a good harvest.  I will cut the corn in mid-September as soon as the ears ripen fully.

gar3I am happy to report three peppers grew! One has already been consumed–it was delicious.  This one is getting large and there is one more very small pepper coming along.  Next year I will grow peppers differently. They will be set closer together, better mulched and well watered during hot spells.

gar5The Jerusalem artichokes make a gorgeous display, all covered in yellow blossoms.  Here the horses graze the lawn in the background.  I am planning to move the artichokes from the garden.  They are too invasive and require excessive space.

From their humble beginnings as a few bare roots and stems pulled from an abandoned strip of grass near a stop sign in Waterville, these plants have become a major success story.  They will be established in an area that allows for their aggressive spreading.  I am convinced the plants emit chemicals into the soil that retard the growth of other plants.  Carrots growing within two feet of the artichokes are struggling.  This plant will hold it’s own against grass and weeds in a different part of the farm.

Another bright yellow, tall flowering plant, the sunflowers bloom in profusion.  They are visible in the background of the first photo.  Little birds visit the plants all day.  They clean the black oil seeds from the flower heads as quickly as they form.  The birds need this rich nutrition to get in shape for their long flight to warmer winter quarters.

Later today I will pick all the ripe or near ripe tomatoes and perhaps clip a few lovely zinna flowers for decorating the table.moth4

Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth


In the garden this afternoon as I was looking for tomatoes, I spotted this little insect flitting around the zinnias.  This is a hummingbird moth.  I believe it is Hemaris diffinis, the Snowberry Clearwing. Sometimes called hawkmoths, these insects fly like hummingbirds, flapping their wings so fast they make a hum.  The moth has a very long proboscis that it uses to probe deep into flowers for nectar.  At around an inch long, the moth is impressive as it moves quickly between flowers.moth4

moth3The caterpillars feed on many wild plants including honeysuckle and snowberry, hence the name.  We have a good supply of wild invasive honeysuckle on the farm so there is plenty of food for moths. The caterpillars are green with a horn on their back ends.  The hummingbird moth is related to the tomato hornworm hawkmoth.

moth1Here in Maine the hummingbird moth has just one generation and is most prevalent in the late summer.  The Snowberry Clearwing is less abundant in our area than the more showy Hummingbird Clearwing which is a reddish color with black bands.  They are called Clearwing because the scales on their wings are lost, worn away as they flap so rapidly.

The hummingbird moth has a rather thick body and a broad flat tail that it can spread to stabilize itself in flight or when it feeds.  The moth did not alight on any blooms while I watched.  It searched for and drank nectar while hovering. After carefully probing all the zinnias, the moth moved over to explore the yellow blooms of the Jerusalem artichokes.