Above all, try something. ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spring-ter In Montana

Today, 3:30 PM: I am sitting on the hood of my jeep, waiting for Finn to get off the bus from school (Finn is the nine year old that I nanny for in Bozeman). It is incredible out. It is sunny. It is warm. I am wearing only a teeshirt, and have my chin stretched up towards the sky, soaking up warmth on my cheeks. I am loving it.
Today, 4:15 PM: After rummaging through the spring clothing at Salvation Army, and scoring a couple cutesy tank tops, I come out of the store to a COMPLETE white-out. It is a blizzard. There is two inches of fresh snow on my hood. Did I mention I'm wearing a tee shirt?
Welcome to Spring-ter in Montana. (Spring/Winter. duh.)
This is a typical day during the season that lasts from about mid-March to about mid-June....and occasionally into July. It is warm. It is sunny. It snows. It hails. Usually all in the same day.
Our abnormally temperamental springs in Montana make planting a garden....challenging, to say the least.
For the last four years Ed and I have tried, with extremely mild success, to start our vegetable garden indoors. Each spring we go through the same motions: get some seeds, get the trays out, get some germination mix, plant the seeds, and hurry up and wait. And each spring the same thing happens: half the seeds germinate, growing spindly seedlings that look to suffer from some sort of plant anorexia. Eventually, the seedlings just wither away, rarely do they make even the FIRST transplanting. We sigh. Yes, our house is cold. I keep the thermostat at a constant 55 degrees. What did we expect really? It's snowing out, for goodness sake!
Then we trek ourselves to the garden store and buy some starter plants around the first of June. They go into the ground around mid-June, and we hover nearby with tarps, ready for snow or hail at any given moment. Around July, we put away the tarps, and enjoy the garden. It grows. It flourishes. Tiny fruits and vegetables appear. Such excitement! Throughout July and August, the weather is lovely. Then comes september...
The chill comes back into the air, and we start watching the projected weather temperature lows daily. The garden is FULL of veggies at this point, just on the verge of ripening, or so it seems. Out come the tarps again! And by October, usually the first week, we have our first snowstorm and hard frost.
Our summers are short and sweet here in Montana. The plants are only in the ground for about 13 weeks.....It is NEVER enough time. One year I remember Ed and I, clad in winter coats and headlamps, out in the dark October night picking green tomatos off our nine plants. We ended up picking 140 pounds of green tomatoes that year! They all slowly ripened in brown paper bags in the basement. We canned tomato sauce around Thanksgiving.
This year I realize our garden situation is only going to get more challenging. We will be higher in elevation (nearly 8000 ft) and will not be working with prepared soil. It will be colder at Jack Creek, and there will be predators to deal with (other than Pfeiffer who likes to steal the cucumbers off our cucumber plants each year). I'm thinking deer will be our biggest problem, but really don't know.... I have been researching inexpensive, yet sturdy, cold frame and hoop house construction, and am hoping Ed and I will have some successes with these ideas.
Because don't you know, I have two trays of seedlings sprouting in the bedroom. This time I have a heat lamp over them. Wish me luck, and happy germinating!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chickens, the Gateway Animal - Part 1

A little over two years ago, Ed decided that he was going to get me some baby chicks for Easter, and promptly spilled the beans to me around the beginning of March. I, being the worry wart, instantly worked myself into a frenzy about knowing not the slightest thing about raising chickens and immediately canvassed the Bozeman Public Library for books about raising poultry.
My favorite two books when in 'The Learning Phase' were the two pictured above, which I ended up purchasing.
It was from these books I learned that during their first 6-8 weeks of life baby chicks need ALOT of warmth. Since summer doesn't really begin in Southwestern Montana until late June (at best), and we were planning to bring home our chicks in early April, we quickly realized we were going to have some fluffy new roommates for a while until the weather outdoors warmed up.
Ed built a small wooden box for the baby chicks to temporarily live inside of while residing in the house. This box is called a Brooder.
Our brooder is about two feet by three feet and eighteen inches tall. It has a removable chicken wire top to keep our nosy furry friends (two enormous dogs) at bay. Above the brooder we hung a standard heat lamp, fixed with a red heating bulb. The red light is a little less harsh for the baby animals and also supposedly controls inter-flock pecking. Inside of the brooder we installed a cheap thermometer to keep tabs on brooder temperature from week to week. Growing baby chicks can withstand a temperature reduction of only five degrees with each passing week, which can be controlled easily by raising the heating lamp just a few inches. Eventually, after the baby birds have replaced all of their cute fuzz with feathers, they are ready to go outside into the 'wild'!
When we finally did bring home a small flock of three-day-old baby chicks from our local feed store, we were so happy to have learned and prepared ourselves as much as we did beforehand. Although it sounds really easy, raising animals for the first time, no matter how small they are, isn't. All animals deserve to be comfortable and happy if they are going to be kept in captivity, and it is your job as a pet owner to make sure that they are. So far, all of our chicks, we have had three rounds of baby chicks so far, have always turned out happy and healthy. It is easy to tell a happy chick by listening to their 'peeping'. The happiest chicks may even keep you up at night with their 'happiness'! So be sure to put your brooder far away from any light sleepers :)
Happy Poultry Raising!
Stay tuned for part two. coop-a-pa-looza! ah yeah!

Bear with us!

So...I am really not too sure how to write a blog, but this premise has never stopped me from trying new things, so here goes! As some of you may or may not know already, Ed and I are about to embark on a new life adventure. This blog will chronicle our adventures, trials, and tribulations of life in the wild wild west! In just a few short weeks, we are moving to a ranch just outside of Ennis, Montana. Ed has taken a position as Ranch Manager (aka: Caretaker) of The Double F Ranch, where he built a gorgeous home a couple of years ago for the owners. We feel so lucky to have this opportunity, and it is a major bonus already knowing the people he will be working for. We will soon be living on close to 12,000 acres of Montana mountain wilderness, caring for three homes (one of them being our own), several back country hunting cabins, and a bunch of animals. The ranch is approximately 14 miles, down a rugged dirt road, from downtown Ennis, a bustling town of 1,200 people. Ennis is known nationally for their awesome fly fishing, being situated on the Madison River which runs out of the Yellowstone River. The Madison Valley was known to the native people of the area as 'The Land of the Shining Mountains', and when you look around you, it is easy to see why. Another "nearby" city to our new abode is Big Sky, Montana. At about 12 miles away, we will have easy access to the 'Biggest Skiing in America', and we couldn't be more excited about it. Having endured the last few winters of looooong bus rides from Bozeman to Big Sky, we are ready for an uber-short commute to some awesome powder days. The town of Big Sky is not much larger than that of Ennis, population-wise, boasting a crowd of about 1,600. What they do have, however, is tourist friendly attractions such as restaurants and alot of live musical entertainment. Thank goodness too, as Ed and I love ourselves some good food, cocktails, and live music every now and again! Who doesn't?! To get back the point of this blog....wow, tangent....we are really excited to begin our new way of life, and through this blog, I plan to take you with us. So buckle your belts, and bring a sweater.