Adventures with Max

This horse.  What a summer we’ve had!  It actually started last April when my friend Colleen sent me a text asking if I’d be interested in going to the world show with her.  So to clarify, the American Quarter Horse Association puts on a world championship show for its Versatility Ranch Horse division in Oklahoma each year in June.  A lot of my friends have either gone to the show to compete or have gone to watch it at some point.  I have only been doing this Versatility Ranch Horse (VRH) thing for a couple of years and I have never been there to see it.

When Colleen asked about going to the show with her, I figured I’d just go with her to help her out and that way I could see the show and get a feel for what it was like.  Then maybe in the next year to two, I would take Max and show him there.  When I mentioned it to Gator, he looked at me like I was nuts!  He said that of course I should take Max and that I might never get another opportunity to do this.  I reminded him that this was the WORLD SHOW and that we really had no business going – we weren’t ready for something like this.  After all, we just went to our first overnight show in March.  Gator then asked how would I get ready for something like this other than to just do it.  I hate it when he’s right! So I decided to take the plunge and go – with Max.

We travelled with a group – four trailers, nine horses and ten people.  It took us three days to get there.  Colleen has a wonderful 3 horse trailer with living quarters so it was really great for a long trip like that.  We were able to camp right at the places where the horses were staying overnight.  Travel was relatively uneventful and except for the fact that it was hot, the weather was good.

We arrived at the Lazy E Arena where the show is held on Monday afternoon and my first classes weren’t until Wednesday morning.  I thought that would give us plenty of time to get settled and in calm our nerves.  On Tuesday, we saddled up and took a tour of the show grounds – the place is huge!  I was so intimidated.  Our first class on Wednesday was trail and I was a nervous wreck.

When I’m a wreck, Max follows my lead and is a wreck too and we went off pattern.  I was really disappointed because I knew we would have done better had I been able to keep my nerves in check.  Oh well, on to the next class.

Reining was Wednesday afternoon and I was determined to get myself together.  I knew the pattern and was confident we could manage to get through it.  We were ready to go when they called us and off we went.  Things seemed to go pretty well but on the second set of spins, I heard someone yell “STOP!” when we finished the 3 1/2 spins we had to do.  I couldn’t figure it out and when I came out of the arena, my trainer was standing there with a funny look on his face.  I asked him if I was off-pattern and he said I did 4 1/2 spins on the first set of spins.  I couldn’t believe it – I even counted how many times I went around!!  I was devastated – another disqualification.

After that, my last class, Ranch Riding was the very last class of the show on Saturday afternoon.  On my off-days, I rode and watched the other members of our group compete. Colleen and I also managed to duck out for a couple of hours and do a little shopping.  I was surprised how busy we were, though.  The week just flew by!  Finally Saturday arrived and although our class was schedule to run at 4:15, it didn’t start until 6:30.  I was 19th to go, so it was at least an hour later before it was our turn.  By that time, I was tired and ready to head home.  I had let my nerves get the best of me and the show had been a disappointment.  I just wanted to ride my pattern and be done with it.  So that’s what we did.

I was too tired to be a basket case and wouldn’t you know, I didn’t screw up!  We ended up placing 11th out of 45 and I couldn’t have been happier!  That two minute ride changed me as a rider.  I realized that Max will do whatever I ask, but he won’t be confident in what we are doing if I’m not.  I’m not sure why it took a trip all the way to Oklahoma to figure that out since it’s not rocket science.

The three day trip back home was uneventful.   Max came back a different horse.  He is much more confident and doesn’t get flustered over little things like he used to.  The next weekend I took him to our local show with the East Coast Stock Horse Association and got brave enough to  enter the cow classes (cutting, cow work and roping) for the first time.  We finished third overall. Yep, it has been quite a summer!

 

 

Beginning the Harvest

In spite of a cool and dry spring, the garden is doing well. Every year I learn a little more and one of the things I have figured out is to put the work in when I’m planting the garden to make it as maintenance free as possible later on. I detest weeding, so I got landscape fabric down and covered it with straw. This is a huge help, especially in the areas of the garden where the plants are spaced quite a distance apart like tomatoes, peppers and squash.

I also laid drip line throughout the entire garden.  Normally, I don’t have to do a lot of watering, but this year I’ve had to water every week.  I had a very intricate layout of the drip line so that every plant would be watered.  The problem is, I used so much line that by the end of it, there was no more pressure and the plants at the end of the line weren’t getting watered.  Who would have thought??  Gator came to the rescue and put a splitter into line about half way through.  Now although I need to flip the switch from one section to the other, at least all the plants get water now!

The work has all paid off though, and we’ve been able to enjoy our cool season vegetables – snow peas, lettuce, spinach, green onions, rhubarb and cilantro.

The warm season vegetables are coming right along too.  We are having some issues with the deer this year, though.  With it being so dry, there isn’t a lot of food available and they figured out that the eating is good in my garden!  Every single one of my tomato plants has had the top eaten off of it.

I have worked too long and hard for the deer to get the best of me!  Since I really don’t want the expense and hassle of fencing the entire garden in, I’m going to go with soap.  Soap, you ask?  Yes – deer and other critters seem to detest the smell of Irish Spring soap, so that’s what I’m going with.  I just cut  up a couple of bars and string some baling twine through it and hang it on each tomato cage.  Then I threw a few extra pieces around the edges of the garden for good measure.

The zucchini is coming in like gangbusters already and I’m trying to get them picked before they get too big.  I feel like I should put a video camera on them to watch how fast they grow – they can go from too small to pick to giant size overnight!  I have been shredding and freezing the big ones to use in baking but it looks like we will be eating A LOT of zucchini in the next several weeks!  The spaghetti squash and butternut squash are also doing well, but don’t seem to be nearly as prolific.  Tomatoes and peppers are only a few weeks away and then I’ll start canning!

Getting Misty

Because I always get so many people asking about what’s going on with the animals here at Glenmore, I thought I’d give you an update.

Earlier this spring, we welcomed a new long-term visitor to the horse barn. I am going to be attending several overnight horse shows with Max this year and I have been looking for a companion horse for Banjo to come and live with us from spring through fall.  Banjo manages pretty well being left behind for a day, but he would really rather have another horse around that he can see.   I put some feelers out early in the year and found Misty, a Thoroughbred polo pony recovering from an injury.  Although she’s sound, her owner felt like it would be in her best interest to give her the season off to make sure she is fully recovered.

Misty was only with us for a couple of days when I took Max for nearly a week to a show. When we got back, Misty and Banjo were madly in love and Max was odd man out! Oh, the drama…  A lot of squealing, laid back ears and even some kicking in the stall.  It took a couple of weeks for things to settle down but now that Max is back in the daily routine,  all three horses are getting along pretty well.

In June we’ll probably go through the whole thing again because I’ll be taking Max to a two day show and then we are headed to Oklahoma to the AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse World Championship show and we will be gone for ten days.  This is why we got Misty, though.  If we didn’t have her, Banjo would have been left home alone and he’d be miserable.  Now at least he will have company – even if we have to go through a readjustment period every time Max comes home!

 

And They’re Up!

It’s been about three weeks since I planted my first seeds and they are coming up!  I’m working on both flowers and vegetables, so I’ve got over a hundred seeds started now. The previous owners of our house enclosed the old patio in glass, so it gets plenty of sun and works great for a greenhouse and Gator set up a nifty shelving system with grow lights for me, so I can handle a lot more trays than I used to.

Some of the seeds were a little more of a challenge to handle and get planted than others – especially the flowers.  For example, the begonia seeds came in a tiny little capsule, and there were only 25 seeds.  So I got out my tweezers and set each tiny little seed in a pot.

I wasn’t very hopeful, but all but all except a couple have come up.  They are growing slowly, but seem to be doing well.

The tomatoes on the other hand, have popped right up and are growing like crazy.  I’m taking a new approach to growing tomatoes this year.  The past several years, I have only grown heirlooms but most (or maybe all) heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate – which means that the plant keeps producing as long as it is alive.  The problem for me was that I was never getting a lot of tomatoes at one time for making salsa or canning.  This year, I’m going to grow some Celebrity tomatoes which are a hybrid and produce all of their tomatoes at once,  so I’ll be able to pick a lot at one time for canning and making salsa.  Then I’ll also have some heirlooms for eating fresh.

As you can see from the picture, I’ve added little flags on each plant.  Another thing I’ve learned is how easy it is to get the varieties mixed up as I move them around and get them hardened off to plant outside.  Somehow, last year I ended up with four Yellow Pear tomato plants in the garden.  They are wonderful, but they’re tiny little tomatoes and each plant produced hundreds of them!  At least I’m learning from my lessons…

Thinking Spring

I’ve had a garden almost every year for the past 30 years. My success (or lack of it) can mostly be attributed to dumb luck. For many years around the last frost date, I’d run down to Home Depot, pick up some tomato and pepper plants and a few herbs and drop them into the most convenient spot I could dig up. I would be very dedicated about watering and weeding until things got busy at work or we went on vacation or it would rain non-stop for a week and then before I knew it, several weeks would go by and I hadn’t set foot in the garden which by then was full of weeds and out of control.

Since we moved here to Glenmore, I’ve been taking my gardening a little more seriously.  After all, this is a farm and I don’t want the neighbors to laugh and joke about the city girl who can’t even grow a decent garden! The biggest issue was finding a good flat, sunny spot.  We have a really big yard but it is sloped and full of really great old shade trees.  After trying one flat area only to find it just didn’t get enough sun, I picked another spot in our backyard that gets plenty of sun but was no where near being level.  Gator, being the good sport that he is, hauled in a bunch of dirt to level it out and has been adding compost from our manure pile every spring and fall.  This will be the fourth year in this spot and I feel like it’s in good shape.

This year, I’m really going to up my game!  I’ve found that the Virginia Cooperative Extension offers some great webinars and online classes and I’ve been taking advantage of them.  I have to admit, I have an ulterior motive – between flowers and vegetables, I was spending a FORTUNE on plants every year.  The last few years, I have been moving toward starting  vegetables from seed and the savings are substantial.  The thing is, it takes some planning to do it right.  Not only am I going to start my vegetables and herbs from seed, I’m also going to start most of my flowers from seed.

Planning started in January with the arrival of seed catalogs.

Trial and error has given me some good ideas about what I want to grow this year.  I’m going with some old standbys as well as a few new things – more about that later.

This is where I get into trouble – everything looks so good!  I have a big garden, about 20 X 23 feet, but it is really easy to go overboard.  I finally had to set up a spreadsheet to help me organize what I was going to order from where.  That spreadsheet is getting bigger and more complicated every week, but at least I’m keeping it all documented!

Seeds have arrived and planting has begun!  This is where I haven’t done such a great job in the past – everything needs to be planted on it’s own schedule based on when it will be transplanted into the garden.  In the past, about the middle of March I’d be so sick of winter that I couldn’t stand it, so I’d get a bunch of seeds and plant them just to give myself some hope of Spring.  This year, I’ve set up planting dates on my trusty spreadsheet and every week, different flowers and vegetables are being started.

Next time, I’ll show you what I’ve started so far and how it’s going – stay tuned!

The Year of the Dog

According to the Chinese calendar, this is the year of the boar. I beg to differ. At Glenmore, this is definitely the year of the dog – or more correctly, dogs.  The year started with Jordy joining our family.

Jordy

We’ve had a lot of puppies over the years, but I seem to have forgotten how much energy they have!  Jordy is no exception.  He is a busy guy.  Thank goodness he has a big farm to run around on.  I’m not sure things would be going so well if we were still in town with a fenced in yard.  He is the quintessential Lab – so enthusiastic!  He has been the perfect playmate for Carly, happily taking everything she can dish out and coming back for more.  Kody was just as happy because it gave him a break from Carly!

Kody, Jordy and Carly

Carly and Jordy have been quite a pair.  In June while we were out one evening, Jordy managed to break out of his crate and steal a bottle of Previcox (Kody’s arthritis medicine).  Being the dynamic duo they are, Jordy got it off the counter and opened the bottle, then Carly pushed him out of the way and ate it all.  The poison control hotline wanted to assume that all three dogs had eaten all of the the doses.  Oh no, I knew better than that.  Kody wanted no part of it – he probably never even got off the couch.  Jordy may be the counter surfer, but he’s no match for Carly when it comes to eating.  As it turned out,  the first thing in morning we had Carly at the vet’s office – she was sick.  Really sick.  It was a full week before she could hold any food down.

Carly

Just about the time she was back in action, Carly came up lame.  After a several trips to the vet, x-rays and many weeks of rest, we determined that she was going to need surgery.  I had heard that the recovery from knee surgery in dogs was difficult, but I had NO idea.  Let’s just say Carly is not the ideal patient – she is not used to a crate and had never been left alone.  Things might have been different if we didn’t have Jordy to contend with, but he didn’t understand that not only could Carly not play with him anymore, she couldn’t even walk unassisted.  For the first month after the surgery, Carly had to stay in a crate 24/7 –  she didn’t like it one bit and made it perfectly clear.

Since Jordy was separated from Carly, he had to find something else to occupy him, so he turned his attention to Kody.  Kody has never been very social.  He would have been perfectly happy being an only dog, and really wasn’t thrilled when we got Carly.  He learned to love Carly but when we got Jordy, it was pretty apparent that at 11 years old, he didn’t have feel obligation to bond with a puppy.  Jordy, however didn’t know (or care) about any of that – he just needed someone to play with!  He pestered Kody incessantly until finally we started noticing them playing together.  Kody didn’t have much patience at first and Jordy has learned that he can’t play as rough with him, but as the weeks have gone by, the two have become close buddies.

Carly is almost fully recovered from her surgery and although she can’t run outside off the leash yet, she doesn’t have to be in the crate anymore in the house.  It’s been interesting to watch her as she inserts herself into play time with her brothers.  She really gets her feelings hurt when she is left out of their play!  It’s a whole new dynamic between those three – I will be glad when things settle down and we can focus on other things.  Next year is not going to be the year of the dog – I think maybe it should be the year of Mary.

 

 

The Next Generation

Gator and I have managed to keep two dogs for the past 18 years.  After we got Kate, our “first” second puppy, we realized how much training goes on from older dogs to puppies.  Since then, we agreed that we would get another dog every 6 years or so.  It hasn’t turned out exactly every six years, but we have continued to have one older dog and a younger one.  Now we have Kody, who will be turning 11 this year, and Carly who just turned 7.  Last year, we started talking about the next generation, thinking the best time to get a puppy would be after our vacation in May.  I have to admit, I was the one who put the brakes on it.  I just couldn’t figure out how I was going to manage a third dog during my busiest time of year at work and while I was trying to commit more time to competing with my horse.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all on me but since I work from home and Gator doesn’t, puppy duty during the daytime is mine.  Once we got into the fall, it didn’t get any more convenient because we had company over the holidays as well as travel plans, so I figured we’d think about it again in the spring and see how things looked.

All that changed when right before Christmas, Gator saw a flyer for Labrador puppies at our local co-op that said they would be ready to go to homes in early January.  We had already decided that we would get another black lab and we wanted a male, and the flyer said they had only one black male in the litter.   I could tell Gator wasn’t going to let this go and I know I overthink and then talk myself out of things, so I took a deep breath called the number.  No answer and no voicemail.  So I called again.  And again.  After calling four times over the course of a week, a guy finally answered the phone and said that he hadn’t answered because he didn’t recognize the area code from my number.  Once we got past that, I asked him about the black male puppy and he said he thought he was going to keep that one.  Since the puppies weren’t going to be available for another week, he said he’d call me back the following Sunday to let me know for sure if he was going to keep the puppy or not.  The next Sunday came and went with no call.  Finally on Tuesday, I called him back and he said he hadn’t made a decision yet because not all of the other puppies had sold.

My gut told me this wasn’t going to work, which was disappointing since I had been really getting excited about the idea of getting a puppy (it doesn’t take much!).  So it was just the motivation I needed to see what else was out there.  As it turned out, a breeder in Maryland had two black males left in a litter and they were 13 weeks old, so she had them discounted because they were getting older.  I gave her a call (she answered right away) and we had a wonderful conversation.  Things were falling into place!

I called Gator and we hopped in the car that evening after work and drove to Maryland.  I’m sure you know the rest of the story – who goes to look and puppies and doesn’t come home with one??

We have one sweet little guy!  This is Jordy.

 

Now we have the next generation – and no room on the couch!

 

Busy Bees

We’ve had a very successful summer with the bees and now we are preparing them for winter.  After last winter’s losses, we are trying to be more proactive by getting the hives to the right size and configuration to give the bees the best chance to survive the winter.

Things got off to a bumpy start last spring.  We got both hives set up and when we checked on them a few days later, 90% of one hive moved over to the other hive.  Not really sure why that happened, but the queen stayed behind and there were enough worker bees to feed the brood, so although the hive was a little slow getting going, it managed just fine.

The other hive just went gangbusters from the start!  We had frames with honey and comb on them from the previous hives, so we put them in the new hives to give them a head start and it really seemed to work.  Before we knew it, we had five boxes and more than enough honey to sustain all of the bees.  We were even able to split the hive and give some bees to a friend who also lost all of his bees over the winter.

  

Now that we’re getting into fall, the queen will start laying fewer eggs, so the number of bees will  begin declining.  The lifespan of “regular” bees is only about three weeks, but the bees born later this fall are known as “fat” bees and their lifespan is about three months.

In order to keep the hives strong, we did a mite count and found that there were a few mites in the hive. In previous years, the regional bee experts recommended that first year hives not be treated for mites, but due to the devastating bee losses in Virginia last year, it appears that varroa mites are spreading faster, so if there are any signs of mites, treatment is now recommended.  This is kind of a big deal, because one of the concerns with bees is the use of pesticides – and what to we use to treat for mites? Pesticides.  It’s funny how I’ve changed my philosophy about the use of pesticides in the hives.  Last year I was completely opposed to the idea.  Then both hives died.  We’re pretty sure it was a combination of things that caused it but there were definitely mites in the hives and that weakened the colonies.  Suddenly, I’m more open minded about the whole idea.

In addition to treating for mites, we are also consolidating the hives.  This is another new idea for us this year.  As new beekeepers last year, we thought that you had to get the hives as big as possible so that they had the best chance of getting through the winter.  What we’ve discovered is that’s not necessarily true.  We want good sized hives, but knowing that the populations are starting to decrease, what we want to do is consolidate the hives so that when the cold weather comes, they will form a tight cluster so that they can keep the queen and the brood warm.  This is the other thing that we think contributed to the decimation of last years hives – the hives were too big and the food was too far away, so when we had an extended cold period, the bees couldn’t get up to the honey at the top of the hive and then all they way back down to the cluster before they died from cold.  So to remedy this, we are taking the honey off the top of the hive and leaving the honey that is in the lower boxes.  We are also taking off the empty boxes at the bottom of the hive.  For some reason, during the summer, the bees move upward in the hive and leave the bottom boxes empty as they go.  Now we will have the hive consolidated in the lower boxes with honey right there near the cluster, so they don’t have far to go to get food when it gets cold.

We certainly have learned a lot this year with our second attempt at raising bees.  We have also learned that things change every year, and what worked last year may not apply this year.  Hopefully, our busy little bees will have a successful winter and will come back strong in the spring!

Maintaining the Delicate Balance

After we finally got the old chickens to accept the new chickens, we thought that we were in the clear.  Mother nature had other things in mind, however.  A few weeks ago, a fox managed to dig under the chicken coop and got in and killed three chickens – one older one and two younger ones.  A few days later, my last older chicken died.  She didn’t look like she had been injured, but all of the chickens that survived were severely traumatized.  They stopped eating, quit laying eggs and hid in the henhouse day and night.

Gator and I knew that as long as we still had live chickens, that fox was going to come back, so although it was pouring rain, we spent the next day digging a ditch around the coop and filling it with bricks.

 

Additionally, we put chicken wire extending down into the ditch and covered it up with dirt.  The fox came back the very next night!  It wasn’t able to get in, but it did dig up some of the chicken wire.  That sent Gator on the warpath.  No fox was going to get our chickens a second time! He found some old steel pipe that was left behind on the farm and laid it around the edge of the coop in some stone dust. He also set a live trap, but so far we have only managed to catch our little cat, Hazel.   Carly has been on high alert as well, and has been waking us up nearly every night to let her out so that she can chase off any critters that happen to be lurking around.   We have seen signs of the fox a few more times, but it hasn’t managed to get into the coop again.

Since I was down to two chickens, I decided to get some replacements right away.  As long as they were out of sorts, I figured a little more upset to the delicate balance couldn’t really make things much worse.  I found a chicken swap here locally – I know, you are thinking, “a chicken swap????”  Yep, it’s like a flee market for chickens.  A bunch of people who have chickens they want to sell all meet in a parking lot and people like me who want to buy them, show up and shop!

I found three young pullets (in between a chick and a full grown hen) that are supposed to lay different colors of eggs (AKA Easter Eggers).  At this point, I figured I might as well try some different chicken breeds and see what happens.

Now we have two brown chickens and three black ones.  Oh and by the way, the brown hens did not appreciate the intrusion of the new chickens.  The delicate balance had been upset once again.  It didn’t help that weren’t leaving the coop during the day, so they had to deal with the new chickens 24/7.

Things always seem to get better with time, and this has been no exception.  All five chickens are getting along fine now and are venturing out of the coop during the day.  The brown chickens have started to lay eggs again and hopefully the black ones will start laying in the next month or so.  We’re still seeing signs of the fox about once a week, but Carly heads out every night about midnight to do her patrolling and has managed to keep everyone safe!

Chicken Little

The new chickens have arrived and are settled in.  We got four pullets (8 week old chickens) to build up our flock which had gone from four to two.  The two older chickens are three years old now, so they are well established and didn’t appreciate the new upstarts showing up.  The new chickens were confused, scared and didn’t appreciate the older ones bossing them around.  We tried to keep them separated for a few days so that the new chickens could get settled in, but we don’t have two separate chicken coops and we found that containing four chickens for several days without a proper coop is just about impossible (see chickens in the barn rafters, below).

We finally gave in and just put them all together with the hope they would all work it out.  To ease the tension, we kept the new chickens in the coop for a couple of weeks and let the older ones out during the day, which was their routine.

Marilyn, one of the older hens – and the only one that is still laying eggs, went into full protest mode.  She refused to lay her eggs in the nesting boxes anymore and resorted to laying them in a corner of our hay storage area in the barn.  Although that doesn’t seem like it should be an issue, Hazel, our barn cat had a big problem with  it!  Suddenly, she started guarding the hay and would chase Marilyn out of the barn whenever she would go in to lay her egg.  There was an awful lot of squawking going on.  Marilyn, refusing to be deterred, just kept on trying to get into the barn until Hazel either lost interest in chasing her out, or was taking her daily nap.  After about a week of this, Carly, our adorable Lab, realized that every day there was an egg on the floor in the barn and she soon began racing down to the barn to see if she could retrieve it (and eat it) before I got down there to pick it up.  REALLY Marilyn, can’t you just lay your eggs in the nesting boxes???  Apparently not.

After about two weeks, I decided that the new chickens would be bonded with the chicken coop and know that it was home, so I started letting them out during the day.

Getting them back to the coop those first few days was a challenge.  Gator got pretty good and walking around the yard with a long stick herding them back home.  After about a week, they started to learn the routine and they now come running when I call them in the evenings.

Now that we’ve had them a few weeks, everyone is getting along just fine.  Marilyn is still laying her eggs in the barn, but she and Hazel seem to have worked out a truce.  I have to keep an eye on Carly – she continues to run down to the barn to look for eggs.  The new chickens have started laying eggs too, and thank goodness, they are laying in the nesting boxes!

 

 

 

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