The View From Canyon Road

Fall Decorations Using Natives

The View From Canyon RoadFall is my favorite season.  Not only does the air have a brisk feel and the colors of the land are morphing into their low-light state, but the opportunity for making autumn decorations is almost endless.  I love using the natural materials around me to create displays, table arrangements, or fall accents throughout our home. 

While living in Nebraska we had access to cornstalks, smooth sumac, goldenrod, bittersweet, pumpkins, hay bales, and feathers.  My boys and I would take their big wagon down to the cornfield with a pair of trimmers and slice off a dozen dried stalks from the last row of the field.  After bringing them home we would stand them up on the corner post of our deck.  Using jute twine to tie the stalks to the post seemed to work best as it weathered fine and blended in well.  At that point we could pull the wagon around the property gathering the remainder of our materials.  We layered first by sticking in the goldenrod; then onto the sumac, bittersweet, and turkey feathers.  Once the bales were set in front we could stack the pumpkins.  To this point the entire display cost nothing.  As the season moved along we added items we purchased at the local market like gourds and Indian corn.  The display itself was dynamic in that the goldenrod dried turning from yellow to a powdery white.  The corn was raided by squirrels that left bits along the way.  Mice also got in on the fun by nibbling the pumpkins.  I enjoyed watching the changes each day as we all enjoyed fall.

Fall Natives on Display

Inside I put together a harvest basket.  I used a round handmade basket to placed our canned goods; applesauce, pears, tomato sauce, jelly, and pickles.  Scattered among the jars were dried beans, Japanese lantern seed pods and burlap.  This centerpiece sat atop an old woodstove in the corner of our dining room.  I was proud of the work that had gone into the basket.  That pride apparently did not translate into picture taking because there is no one to be found! 

Now in Kansas the landscape has changed so now we use milo stalks tied onto each porch post.  I then tie a non-obtrusive fall colored ribbon to finish the bundle.  At the base of each post my sons and I place a couple of deer antlers.  We love searching the nearby fields for dropped antlers; it’s like a scavenger hunt.  Next, I stack around hedge apples, gourds, and pumpkins.  Since hedge rows preceded barbed wire there are plenty of mature trees bordering fields.  An additional perk may be a cricket deterrent.  Honestly, I do not know the validity of this statement, but it’s worth a shot.  The native gourds in this area are small, green and yellow striped spheres.  This combination makes for a neat harvest of nature’s bounty.  I just find it fun to look around to see what I can gather and turn into an eye-catching display.  These become unique and site specific creation to enjoy for months.

Chicken Trouble

Sara KrugCan you be a bad chicken parent?  Yes, is the answer I arrived at after the last few days. We started out two years ago with a group of 15 fowl.   It turns out that many of them were roosters.  Having named them all and moved them over five hours to a new home I found it too difficult to selectively cull the flock.  As circumstances wittled away at our original crew we were left with five roosters and three hens.  I acquired four more hens reasoning that more females would spread out the over-attention being paid to the first females of the coop.  Wrong.  The fighting, mobbing, squawking and all out clatter from the coop intensified.  I can’t be sure as to the exact sequence of events, but I do know it was bad. 

Last Saturday morning my oldest son noticed Snowball, the rooster from a previous blog, had a swollen eye.  In fact he could not see at all which was evident when our cat, Mater, crept up on his left side and there was no recognition until Snowball cocked his head to the right and caught a glimpse of black out of his right eye.  At that point a cock-a-doodle-do was heard across the canyon.  Mater had no intention of attacking he was simply on patrol.  Snowball found his way back into the coop and perched for a while.  We decided to watch him to see if any other unusual signs appeared.  The next day we opened the coop to find no improvement and another rooster, Tiny, acting odd.  He could barely walk and did so with a labored stagger.  At this point I called a friend to ask if he thought I should have them checked out.  Could there be an infection going around?  I relayed many of the week’s events to him and his advice was to remove the roosters as their injuries were due to fighting and this element needed to be eliminated.  Great, I thought.  My husband was out with harvest and I had not taken care of putting down an animal before.  I felt responsible for these guys as I was their main caregiver.  My first thought was to call a neighbor, 10 or so miles away, but a neighbor none-the-less.  I asked if he could give me the cliff notes on how to get this job done.  He was on his way to check a water tank and said he would stop by.  His three-year-old daughter was along for the ride and was wide-eyed to say the least.  Her dad said he would take the rooster with him.  What a great idea.  That way my boys or his daughter did not have to witness the deed.  We took the large cat carrier, opened the door and shoed the rooster in.  I asked the little girl if she knew her dad was a rooster wrangler.  She looked at me and with no words I knew she thought I was nuts.  I did send her home with some chocolate chip cookies in hopes of exchanging her apprehension of me into tolerance.  My boys were happy with the outcome at least for now. 

When my husband returned home after 11:30 that night I filled him in on the drama.  He said he would take a look at Snowball in the morning.  Before he left that next morning he let me know that Snowball was not better and that he had taken care of him.  OK, maybe things will settle down for the rest of the chickens and roosters.  That was a nice thought.   

That same morning the dogs were in the backyard eating breakfast and playing while we got ready to head into town.  I checked on their water and came in and out of the house several times before leaving.  Nothing was out of the ordinary.  My youngest son had already gone out the door before my other son and I.  He yelled for us to come see something.  I was sure he had found a caterpillar or toad.  No, wrong again.  There in the backyard lay a dead white chicken.  The dogs were chewing on her.  Are you kidding me?  Had she flown into the yard?  The dogs had been around the chickens countless times without any incident.  How had this happened?  The dogs could tell I was disgusted and did as I commanded and marched into the house.  They would be detained until the evidence could be collected.  As I recounted the story to several people that day one person said of course the dogs killed the chicken because it came into their territory.  I still do not want to believe that.  My account is that a red-tailed hawk picked up the chicken, broke its neck and dropped it in the backyard while attempting to fly off.  The dogs then began chewing on it.  That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it! 

Save Water

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, “drought is a protracted period of deficient precipitation resulting in extensive damage to crops, resulting in loss of yield.”  47 percent of the continental U.S. is currently experiencing at least moderate drought conditions.  The community in which I live has gone to the strictest water restriction level in an effort to conserve as much water as possible.  No outdoor water use is allowed unless the homeowner has a private well.  Earlier this fall the city council made the decision as to who would shut off the pumps when the water in the city’s wells got too low.  Thankfully that time did not arrive.  Even though our home is supplied by rural water and the farm is on a well, we are involved within the community and the desperate water situation has reached all of us no matter the source in which we pull our water.  In an effort to conserve this precious resource many residents have been ingeniously implementing water saving techniques.  One of the most detailed attempts a local homeowner did was to tap into the shower drain, run the pipe through the outside brick wall and empty into a tank.  He then uses it to water outside.  I am clearly impressed by his ingenuity, but am wondering about the chemical effects on his plants.  Perhaps he uses biodegradable soap.  The most popular effort is to collect rain water in rain barrels.  The local watershed is selling 55 gallon plastic drums turned rain barrel for $20 apiece.  The drums originally contained syrup for making cola.  They are simply cleaned and a great way to reuse materials.  These rain barrels may not be adequate in holding the load coming from your roof.  Consider the following: 

  • The typical roof area of a house is between 1200-2000 square feet.
  • That's 750 - 1250 gallons of water that runs off each time we have 1 inch of rain!
  • To calculate the potential harvesting amount of water from a roof, take the area times 0.623.  This will give you the amount for   1 inch of rain.  Source:  K-State Research and Extension

A larger option is a 250 gallon cube found around many farms, the one in which Roundup is contained.  After a sufficient cleaning
these can be used safely.

Outdoors, it is important to plant with natives whenever possible due to their ability withstand your region’s conditions.  Once planted it is beneficial to mulch which holds in moisture. Now it is time to water with the rain captured in your barrel.  A slow and steady stream will allow for filtration and discourage runoff.

A few ways to save water in the bathroom are shutting the water off while brushing teeth and scrubbing hands, or placing a bucket in the show to catch water as it warms.  A shower timer can prompt a quicker shower.  A small investment in a low flow toilet or showerhead will cut water use and your water bill.  As for the kitchen, run the full high efficiency dishwasher instead of hand washing the dishes.

Many of these water saving tips are not new.  Past generations incorporated such practices in their daily lives out of necessity.  That time has come around again.  So often as resources are plentiful we become indulgent.  Guilty as charged.  I am working to implement many of these practices into my life as I look to my children’s future.  What better way to start than at home on the farm.  Our love for the land and lineage of stewardship can be an example to our communities.

They Come in Threes

Sara KrugI have often heard that things come in threes.  It was certainly true for us one cool March day. 

The day started with our sheltie/collie mix (we think) dogs running off.  They came back covered in greenbrier, duckweed, pond scum and “proud of ourselves” attitudes.  That evening after a 45 minute per dog clean-up we started a fire in the woodstove.  It was one of the first in quite some time.  We were enjoying its heat when our black cat, Mater, comes flying out of the bedroom not far in front of the dogs’ snouts.  He jumped to safety on the woodstove.  He had not expected it to be on.  One of the pads of his feet got burned.  After the shock of the moment, we raced after him.  We found him downstairs tending to his wound.  We covered it in ointment and wrapped it well.  Yeah, not cool for a cat.  He seemed more disturbed over the bandage than the burn, but it had to be done.

My husband and I got the kids to bed and sat down to relax.  We realized the chickens had not been put in yet.  We let them roam during the day and lock the coop at night when they return.  That night I presumed it would be an easy lockup.  What was I thinking?  I looked in before closing the door and what do you know, a raccoon looked back.  Are you kidding me?  I ran to the back door of our house and banged on the sliding glass door while yelling “there’s a coon in the coop!”  My husband jumped up and came out after only a few minutes.  He had his .22.  I said hey, “I can get him out.”  Apparently the day had taken a toll because getting a coon out of a coop without it scratching my eyes out is a joke.  Reluctantly I held the flashlight as my husband opened the coop window and sniped the masked mammal.  I could tell the chickens were relieved because they started moving again.  All except Snowball, the Polish top-hat male, who strutted around through the entire ordeal.  Once you see him it all makes sense.  His feathers stand up on his head as if he stuck a toe in a light socket. He is a far cry from the smooth, fluffy-feathered female.  Apparently his naiveté nature kept him safe.

Snowball our Polish top-hat male
Snowball, our Polish top-hat male, this is his typical look. 

We headed inside, locked the doors, and turned the lights out all without a word.  At that point there was nothing left to say.