Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

Hey, Bees..Bad Timing!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

There's a well-known beekeeper poem that comes to mind today:
A swarm in May — is worth a load of hay.
A swarm in June — is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm in July — isn't worth a fly.

 With all these back issues in the past year, I've been a terrible beekeeper.  So I was so excited to see that my first hive survived their first year.  In fact, they seemed to be flourishing.   But here we are at the arrival of Spring and the weather has been awesome and I still haven't been able to get out to check on the hive. 
So you can imagine how mortified I was when J. showed me this picture that he had captured while checking on the chickens tonight.
Yep, the bees have swarmed up into the new sugar maple that we planted last year.  I'd say they are in a mass about the size of a bowling ball and J. says they're about 10 feet up.
I'd love to catch them and put them into a second hive that I had prepared for the day I could split the hive.  Question is...it's dark outside now.  Will they stay there overnight or will they be gone in the morning?  And can I even move them with this bad back of mine?   Surgery is in 36 hours!
I guess I can't be too sad if they are gone when the sun comes up.  Swarming is a natural lifecycle of bees and it just shows that the hive was really strong and outgrew their home.  Hopefully, the old hive should still be viable and working on getting a new queen up and running.  J. certainly isn't going to check given his bee-phobia and there's no way I can do it until I've recuperated. 

This swarm may have to be the one that got away.

Finally, A Bill I Want to Open

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Who wouldn't want to see a bill like this one every month?  I wish I could say that the massive credit was due to the solar panels, but it isn't.  We held our own there and only used 4 kW the entire month of March.  The credit is from the energy audit changes that we made late last year (new windows, more insulation in the attic,etc.).  For all that work, the utility companies paid for the $400 energy audit and gave us almost $450 toward the work that we did. 
Of course, that only pays for 1/4 of the new gas tankless hot water heater that we put in. But, heck, anything helps!
4 more days until back surgery.  The oral steroids are working their magic, but I am down to one every 12 hours and they run out on Tuesday night.  So that leaves me with a day and a half of no protection.  I may try to "cheat" the remaining pills out just a bit each time to try to cover more of Wednesday.  Thursday is coming...slowly but surely. 

An Update on Me

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Wow, it's been 17 days since I last posted.   A lot has been going on and not all of it is good, unfortunately.  This back pain I've been dealing with since last May has gotten the better of me.  After several months of chiropractic treatment (don't do it!), physical therapy and two epidural shots into my back, I am now facing surgery on April 30th. My first epidural wore off just shy of the 2 month mark and the second one actually made my pain worse.  Where I was just  feeling sciatic pain all the way down my left leg, now I feel it on both sides.  Actually, right after, it felt like a mule kicked me right in the butt.  Good thing that's subsided.
The thing is, it's difficult to get comfortable and has been for quite some time.  Definitely no standing because the "buzz" in my leg quickly turns into pain around the 20 second mark.  If I stand long enough, I can no longer feel my leg.  It's as if it's fallen asleep.  What little benefit I got from the second epidural is now wearing off and sitting is becoming more painful as well.  My life now consists of trying to get through each day of work and then collapsing in a painful heap on the sofa.  Except for bed, it's the only place I am not in a lot of pain.
The orthopedic doc gave my Hydrocodone, which doesn't do diddly for the pain.  I've found good ol' ibuprofen takes the edge off but then I worry about what it does to my stomach.  I don't want to trade this back pain for an ulcer. 
The neurosurgeon, who specializes in minimally invasive surgery, was concerned that my pain was "on the wrong side" because my herniation is on the right but my pain is on the left.  I guess I'm one of the 3-4% that are weird like that.  He ordered another MRI which we did on the 11th.  I didn't see the pictures, but he said it shows that the disc herniation has gotten significantly worse since the first MRI in December.  Yea!  I'm not surprised...it's evident from the pain levels.
So, for now, I am counting days until the 30th.  I just have to make it through 10 more days counting today.  The surgery is minimally invasive and is over 98% successful.  The surgeon will make a 1-inch incision in my back, insert a series of tubes down to my spine by pushing my back muscles out of the way.  Then they will remove a small piece of bone over the herniation and remove the herniated piece of disc.  Just an overnight stay to make sure I come out of anesthesia, am eating OK, walking OK, etc. is needed.
I'm so sorry I've been absent and only posting sporadically over the last year, but now you know the whole story.  I have watched life pass me by for almost a year and can't wait to get back in the game.  And, if you don't mind me asking, please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I go through this.  I haven't had surgery since having my tonsils out when I was 6, so I am scared to death.

The Turn Into April

Saturday, April 04, 2015

It always seems that I'm late changing the calendar.   Just 4 days into April and this hasn't been a good month already.  J. went to check on the chickens and found Cruella dead in the coop.  He said it looked like she had gone to sleep on the roost, died in her sleep and then fallen off.
It happens I guess.  But not that long ago, she was happily scratching away in the sunny yard and newly turned garden. 

While Cruella may have been, well, a mean chicken at best, I do miss her now that she is gone. 
Here she is with her pinless peepers on.  It was the only way to keep her from pulling everyone else's feathers out and she did NOT like it!
Still, she was a gloriously beautiful chicken.  And not at all afraid of telling you what she thought about you.

As leader of the flock, she was always first in line for the treats.  Her favorites were mealworms and watermelon.
We got out Cruella and our other 3 barred rocks when they were about a week old back in late April of 2011.  Even as a baby, Cruella did her own thing.  She wasn't one to cower in the corner like everyone else. 
Cruella, on the left, already showing her independent streak.
She was the last of our Barred Rocks and will probably always be the last.  While they are great layers, they aren't the friendliest breed.  The Black Austrolorps (of which we still have 2 of our original 5) are also consistent, daily layers but are much friendlier.  In fact, they like to follow you around and talk to you.  We have some new chicks coming in a week or so and I decided to try some new breeds.  But you'll have to wait to find out what they are!

Signs That Spring is Coming

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My, how times gets away from you.  I meant to post these pictures on Monday and here it is Thursday already! But I do have a wonderful excuse - I received a promotion at work and I've been a busy bee organizing all  my new responsibilities.
We're in the middle of a streak of 60 and 70-degree days right now, so it certainly is starting to feel like Spring.  That and Daylight Savings Time that started on Sunday.  Over the weekend, J. and I took advantage of the nice weather to get out of the house.  And so did the chickens.

Cruella demanding to know what we are doing in her yard.

They were fascinated with the work we were trying to do in getting our equipment ready for work.  The old Cherokee had thrown a shoe right before it got super cold and it had been sitting and waiting for a nice day when we could work on it.  It's 17 years old so things are gonna break, I guess.

With the chickens getting in our way help, J. issued a diagnosis of a bad power steering pump. 

Now, I'm not mechanic but I do know that those ball bearings are supposed to be nicely packed and evenly distributed so I'd say that's the problem.  The parts are less than a $100 and I was able to use a coupon to get them for 40% off so it didn't hurt as much as it could have. What did hurt, though, is that you have to use a special tool to put the plastic pulley back on the pump or it will crack.  As luck would have it, the tool was checked out at our local Auto Zone so we'll have to try again this weekend.
In other news, J.'s mother had her second knee replacement so we went to see her several nights ago.  She's doing well and will be up and running in no time. I'm STILL dealing with these back issues that are keeping me on the sofa.  After a round of 2 more steroid injections in my back last Friday, I've been in more pain now than before I got them but it's starting to come down.  The orthopedic doc wants to do 2 more this Friday in an effort to get all the inflammation out.  Cross your fingers for me.  I've gotta kick this thing so I can get our garden planted and start work on the $1400 house!

We are Modern Day Homesteaders

Thursday, March 05, 2015

This is from From Scratch magazine, a daily e-zine devoted to those of us who have better things to do than sit in traffic all day.  According to them: "You are the modern homesteader. Whether you have 1000 acres or live in an apartment – homesteading is an attitude. A lifestyle. A journey."
Amen. And I'm so happy that we have neighbors that feel the same way about a simpler life, even if it's right in the middle of the rat race called Kansas City.
If you want a printable version of this to display in your house (or barn?) just click here.

Solar Panels and Snow

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Drat. Winter just won't leave!  Since Friday, we've gotten about 3 inches of steady snow that has now tapered off into semi-sunshine.  I guess I can't complain, since they forecasted up to 8 inches.

But snow on solar panels means we get no electricity production until it melts off.  Zip. Zero. Zilch.  With the array  over 12 feet wide and almost 10 feet in the air on one end, we've had to be rather creative with how we get the snow off the panels.
Luckily, I was able to take advantage of an awesome deal that Home Depot had a couple of weeks ago on this Snow Joe telescoping roof rake.  Normally, $39.99 and we caught it for $17.99.  I pity the poor people that actually have to get out and use this thing to get snow off their roof!  But it works really well for our panels, as it telescopes out to 21 feet and is really lightweight.  The scraper head is made of a poly material and is a nice 24-inch length. The only gotcha is that it has a tendency to catch on the panel frames.  Once it's warmer, J. is going to rig it with a squeegee edge that should fix that problem.
On Thursday, we generated 56.02 kilowatt hours.  That's way over what we projected our peak power production would be (45 kWH). And it's still winter.  I can't wait to see what peak we hit in mid-summer when the sunlight hours are longer and sun is right overhead.
Time to go cruise everyone's blogs and see how they're whiling away winter's end.  Stay warm, everyone!

Countdown to Spring

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Can you believe that the official start of Spring is just a month away? While that may be the official date, I'm not so sure that we're not going to see an early spring this year.  In our neck of the woods, we really haven't had much of a winter other than a few piddly snows not even worthy of trying out the hub's new snowblower on.  He's been down in the dumps about that all season.
I'm not the only one that's betting on an early Spring either.  Looking at our trees yesterday, they all have huge buds on them.  And I just read this about the grizzlies in Yellowstone that have woken up from their long winter hibernation almost a month early.  Yep, it's around the corner.  That cranky ol' Punxatawney Phil may have predicted 6 more weeks of winter, but I'm pretty sure he was referring only to those poor folks in the Northeast and not us lucky people here in the bread basket.
I've got seed catalogs to flip through and seed organizing to do. Garden plans need to be made. Early seeds need to be planted.  Where are we going to move the apple trees?  or the blackberries?  And where do the strawberries go this year? 
So much to do!  The clock is ticking...
p.s.  Happy Valentine's Day!

Incredible Craigslist Find

Monday, February 09, 2015

I can't help it - I seriously am addicted to Craigslist. Look at what I found this weekend!

There's about 3700 pounds on this trailer. It's overloaded!
A nice couple was tearing out their 14 x 16 paver patio and just wanted to get rid of it.  It's a blend of red, grey and black.  In other words, the perfect color to match our $1400 house! 

When we went to look at the patio on Saturday afternoon, the whole family was pulling the pavers up from the patio in the backyard and stacking them neatly next to the curb for pickup.  With a neighbor's help, we stacked them in the Dingo trailer and the back of the truck.  Oops...we overloaded the trailer and it started to smoke as the wheel rubbed the inside of the fender.  So we had to stop and take a row off the trailer and throw it in the truck.   

These used to be stacked nicely.
These pavers go for anywhere from 78 cents to a dollar, so I estimate we've got about $1400 in free pavers. That's definitely going to help keep our budget down on this house.
Can't beat that with a stick!

The Mightly Craigslist Hunter

Monday, January 19, 2015

Man, is Craigslist fun.  I think of it as being on an expedition in deep dark Africa where we're hunting an elusive legendary creature of some kind - you know the kind that no one has ever seen but people whisper about it around the fire.
But the creature I'm hunting doesn't run very fast but it IS exciting (or at least I think so).  I'm talking about old house parts.  Our $1400 house is missing two fireplace mantels - one in the downstairs parlor and the other in the master bedroom.  I want them to be authentic for the time period of the house and what better place to find them than Craigslist? 
The hunt has been ongoing since we bought the house last August.  And Craigslist was a source of entertainment for me on the many evenings that I spent flat on my bad back on the sofa with the heating pad. Antique mantels just don't get posted that often and, when they do, they're often $800 and above.  I have all the time in the world to be patient, and it finally paid off when I saw an ad for a tiger oak mantel for just $350.

A nice gentleman named John, who was an old house restorer like us, had sold his home (it was on the National Register, no less!) and was moving to Palm Springs.  He'd collected a basement and carriage house full of old house jewels from some of the many houses that had been torn down in the neighborhood and needed them gone ASAP.  A quick phone call and we knew we had to go see the mantel, as it was the perfect dimensions to fit in the $1400 house's parlor.

The oak mantel has been stripped and sanded, but a light stain and polyurethane will be bring out the beauty of the wood.  The mirror is obviously old and some of the silvering is off of it but I like it, so I probably won't replace it. 

On the way out, we passed the mantel on the left, which is solid cherry and DROP DEAD GORGEOUS.  I thought I had seen the listing for it at $1800 but he informed me that he needed to get rid of it and would take $400.  Screeeeeeeccchhhhh....hold the phones!  WHAT?!  I immediately told him we would take it as well. 
It's in perfect condition and the new mirror had been removed to prevent it from getting broken.  Since it's a little smaller than the oak one, it will be beautiful in the master bedroom.  I can't believe we just found both mantels for $750, which is what I had budgeted for just one! 

Now if only that guy would drop the price on that mounted buffalo head.  I mean...who *doesn't* need one of those!?

Solar: Two Months Later

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My head is spinning with Excel charts and graphs, numbers and formulas, oh my!  Now that we've had the solar array energized for a couple of months, I thought it would be interesting to see how much energy it's generated and what effect it's had on our electricity bill.  WARNING:  Excel geekness ahead!

This first chart shows the output from the array.  Now late fall\winter is the *worst* time to energize an array, I think, simply because you get a little depressed about the fact that it's not producing at its maximum potential.  The sun is getting lower in the sky and the daylight hours are shorter.  Here in Missouri, it's often gray and overcast if it's not snowing (although we've had only a few small snows so far this winter).

The red line in the chart below represents the 45 kilowatt hours (kWH) that the solar panels could produce under perfect conditions, which really don't exist.

The green line represents the average daily kWH, which is 14.5 for this time period.  See those dips?  You can almost chart what the weather was like with this. 

This chart is for the entire year because I wanted to demonstrate the effect that the solar panels had on the amount of power we're buying from the utility company.  We went "live" at the tail end of October and you can see the big difference there.

See the green arrow?  That would be the days that were super cold and we turned on the "chicken furnace" in the coop to keep the girls from turning into ice-chick-les.  That thing really sucks the power!  (By the way, J. coined the term ice-chick-les, and I laugh every time he says it.)

Oh, and here's another way of looking at the same graph.  See the significant drop off in October?

So now for the nitty gritty.  Here's what it's done to our monthly electric bill:

We used more power in December because the real cold started and we had our house furnace and chicken furnace on.  Still, a 71% is nothing to sneeze at.

I'm now completely obsessed to getting to the big fat zero.  Once we get there, we can try to get a negative, which means KCPL is paying us to generate electricity.  I can't wait to see what our numbers look like this spring and summer!

Lovin' These Gas Prices

Sunday, January 11, 2015

I think we're all breathing a sigh of relief with gas prices back down below $2.00 a gallon. But how about paying $0.009 per gallon?

We were able to do that over the weekend at Hyvee by taking advantage of some of their awesome "buy this and get ** cents off per gallon" deals.  Combine these with coupons and you can really get a great deal.

It's a limit of 20 gallons at that price and the Jeep has a 20 gallon tank.You can bet that I ran that gas tank down as far as I could and we practically sputtered into the gas station.  19.71 gallons and 18 cents later, we drove off.

In other news, the steroid injection has been working and I spent the weekend mostly pain free.  The sciatica is creeping back slowly but I've got a second injection scheduled for Thursday.  Hopefully, that will calm the nerve permanently.

I hope everyone had a great weekend!

A Step in the Right Direction

Friday, January 09, 2015

Today couldn't come fast enough for me.  This afternoon I was scheduled to have the first of several corticosteroid injections into my spine to see if it will alleviate the inflammation that is causing all this pain.  I hate needles and everyone at work was telling me they used a 2-foot long needle and that it hurts terribly.  So I wasn't surprised to see that my blood pressure, which is normally 118\80 shot all the way up to 208/120 at my last appointment.  Right before the procedure, it was 292 over 149.

J. had to wait for me, as you can't drive the first time you have one of these. Apparently, it's common for people to lose sensation in their legs temporarily.  Yep, that would be bad on I-35 during rush hour! 

The procedure actually didn't hurt that much.  I had a great doc that talked me through the entire procedure to tell me what he was going to do before he did it.  They have you lay on your stomach and then they swab your back with surgical disinfectant.  You feel a bee sting when they administer the Lidocaine to numb the injection area. While you're getting numb, a fluoroscopy x-ray machine on wheels is placed over you and the doctor uses this to guide the needle to right around the nerve.

I felt a pressure but no pain when he inserted the needle.  He then checks that he is in the right place by moving the needle against the nerve, which feels like intense stinging or burning going down your leg.  It's a really difficult experience to describe but, yes, it's uncomfortable.  When he releases medication around the nerve, you feel the same sensation for a few seconds and then its gone.  The doctor asks you to tell him when it's subsided and then he squirts more in.  It took 4 of those to get all the steroid in there.  Then the needle comes out and you are done.

Since some people lose sensation temporarily, they have you sit up immediately but not walk.  I was moving my toes and legs the whole time, so fortunately this didn't happen to me.  Then they put you in a wheelchair and wheel you into a recovery room where they monitor your blood pressure and make sure you can walk OK before you leave.  I felt like an old woman in that wheelchair.  But my blood pressure came down to an acceptable 129/89.  The pain was still there, but less.  It takes 24 to 48 hours for you to feel the full effect.  I'll have another one in a week.

As I write this, the pain is down to just a slight pinch in my hip.  I can stand up and sit down without pain.  Amazing!

From what I've been reading, these injections can last for weeks or even for years, but they are not addressing the real elephant in the room:  this nasty herniated disc.  So there will probably be surgery in my future at some point. But for now, the pain is mostly gone

Upcoming Winter Webinars

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

If we're stuck inside, we might as well make good use of the time and learn something new, right?  The calendar is cranking back up with all kinds of events while we wait for Spring to arrive.  Here's a list of the upcoming webinars and events that I just added to the Events Calendar.  There's the usual local seed and plant exchanges, and so me great freebie classes offered through the library.  And some really good online webinar series as well. 

Lots of good stuff here, people! Here are just a few:

Weekly Webinar Series on Small Farms
The Small Farm Webinar Series is a weekly educational series for the small farm community and provides practical knowledge on emerging topics which advance local food production in Illinois. This series of online events is aimed at providing small farm producers with a look at how leading practices in production, management, and marketing enable operations to improve profitability and sustainability.

Webinars air live each Thursday at 1:00 – 2:30 pm and include a question and answer session. If you cannot attend, a link to the recorded webinars will be available to view at your convenience for all those who register.

Date Topic
Jan. 15, 2015 – No-till culture for Peppers & Tomatoes
Jan. 22, 2015 – Growing Hops for Market
Jan. 29, 2015 – Potato Production
Feb. 5, 2015 – Sweet Corn Production
Feb. 12, 2015 – Perennial Crops for Small Farms
Feb. 19, 2015 – Understanding Insecticides
Feb. 26, 2015 – Blueberry Production
Mar. 5, 2015 – Hydroponics
Mar. 12, 2015 – Effective Farmers Market Displays
Mar. 19, 2015 – Veggie Compass Record-Keeping Software
Mar. 26, 2015 – Variety Selection & Rootstocks for Establishing Apple Orchards

To register for each webinar, log onto http://go.illinois.edu/2015winterwebinars.  For any question contact Miki White, University of Illinois Extension, Small Farms/Local Foods Program Coordinator at 309-342-5108.

Free Webinar to Feature Urban Farmers Discussing Strategies for Managing Risk 
Urban farmers face many risks in producing safe and affordable food.  Some of the risks are common to all types of farming; however, many are unique to the urban setting, including zoning regulations, access to water, and managing contaminated soils.  While many cities in the U.S. are working to address some of the needs of urban farmers, profitability remains a challenge.
A free January 15 webinar, “Managing Risks on an Urban Farm,” will focus on the risk management strategies of two urban farms and how they have overcome several of the barriers facing urban farmers today. The webinar is being presented by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and NCAT's ATTRA program and is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA), 2012-68006-30177.
Title: Managing Risks on an Urban Farm
Cost:  Free
Date: January 15, 2015
Time: 11 a.m. Central Standard Time
To Register:  Go online at https://attra.ncat.org/managing_risks/


Feeding Bees in Winter

Friday, January 02, 2015

My beehive has been without human intervention for most of the year, since the issues with my back have pretty much kept me from doing any heavy lifting or even standing for more than a couple of minutes at a time.  And who wants to sit down next to an open, active  beehive?  I'm not that confident yet.

I've been monitoring the bees busy comings and goings from the hive all summer and fall and am pretty sure that they had filled the second super with stored honey, but not knowing for certain could translate into a lot of dead bees.  The turn into January is bringing Old Man Winter's icy fingers - this week is going to be extremely cold and with possible snow.  I couldn't bear not knowing if the bees were OK.  Reluctantly, J. agreed to help me check on them and give them some supplemental food, if they needed it. 

It was fairly sunny but cold (39 degrees), which isn't an ideal time to open a beehive.  Ideally, it would be a minimum of 50.  I certainly wanted to take care of this as quickly as possible to prevent the hive getting too chilled.  After removing the outer cover, I saw a thriving colony just below the inner cover.  This had me worried, as bees move up the hive as they eat their stores and bees near the top might indicate that they are running low on food.

Removing the inner cover and exposing the frames, I could easily see that they had filled all the frames with honey with the exception of the outermost frames.  From what I could see, they still had plenty of honey stores.  Bees cluster together in the center of the hive to keep warm in cold weather and, when I removed the inner cover, the top of the cluster spilled out onto the top of the frames a bit.  The weather makes the bees calm and non-aggressive, but that left-most bee (the one facing left) gave me a friendly buzz to let me know our meddling in the chilly weather wasn't very welcome.  Shortly after that, she landed on my hand and sat there.  Was she trying to decide whether or not to sting me?

Working quickly, I added a medium super on top of the hive (it was all I had - in fact, it wasn't even painted yet!)   This will give the bees room to reach the food we were adding.  Then I misted water onto both sides of a sheet of newspaper that was folded in half and placed it on the top of the frames.  It did cover some of the bees, but they moved back down into the hive and out from under it.  Next, I poured sugar on top of the newspaper just enough so that it was covered and then misted the sugar with water.   Then more sugar (about half a pound) and more misted water. The sugar will soak up the water and form a hard crust. 

This kind of feeding is called "mountain camp feeding".
Finally, the inner and outer covers went back on, and we added some heavy rocks to keep everything sitting tightly together since the bees haven't had time to "cement" the new super in place.The bees will eat through the newspaper to get to the sugar, and the newspaper also protects them from any condensation that might drip down from the covers.  A wet bee is a chilled bee, so I was careful to not mist any of them.

According to the Farmer's Almanac, the weather is supposed to turn milder later this month, so I will check them again in a couple of weeks when the weather is warmer to see how much of the sugar they've gone through. If necessary, we'll repeat the process and possibly add a pollen patty as well. 

This hive is less than a year old and I really want to see it survive. I think I've done the right thing after all my research.  Any experienced beekeepers out there that are willing to share some advice for this newbie?

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