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The Deer and Other Animals

The deer spend less time in our backyard now.

Sometimes during the winter, when snow covered every bit of pasture, there would be five or six deer waiting near our backdoor in the morning. My wife would talk to them like friends as she tossed out apples for them to eat. That happens less often during the summer, but they still know that this is a safe and welcome place to come. They often spend the night in the forest just beyond our yard.

My son, James, throws apples to deer in our backyard

Over the years we have seen a wide variety of birds that return to the area every summer. These include eagles, hawks, doves and, pigeons. Just like in California, we have swallows that return each year.  

Rabbits and squirrels don’t hibernate during the winter, but they do hunker down in their homes, try to stay warm, and sleep more. So, we don’t often see them in the winter. However, this time of year they are out in abundance. We have to keep the barn doors closed or they would both be inside eating the chicken food.

Living in the country can be hard work, but I wouldn’t want to live in a city or even a suburb ever again.


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Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

Surviving the Winter

My bees have survived winter – at least so far.

 Kyle opens the hive.

Kyle opens the hive.

A few days ago the temperature rose into the low fifties. Between rain showers, I hurried out to inspect both of my hives. I didn’t have to open them to know the most important news, as of that day in late January both colonies had survived the winter. Individual bees were flying out and returning to both structures.

Before opening the hives, I cleared a few dead bees from near the entrance. This is normal. Worker bees remove the dead from the hive, but on cold days they don’t take the bodies far. Then I removed the top of the hive. Immediately below the roof is a box with a wire mesh bottom. On top of that is a cloth and resting on that are cedar chips. This collects excess moisture during our damp rainy winters. I was pleased to see that it was dry. 

Deep in the hive below, I heard the buzz of a healthy colony. I quickly returned the moisture box and roof to the hive.

In a few weeks, I’ll open the hive again and add food to tide the bees over until spring.


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Oh, Deer!

The days are getting longer now, but it seems to me that this is the coldest time of the year in the northwest. While it doesn’t always snow in western Washington State it has this year and that brings more wildlife to the house and barnyard area.

Click to Enlarge

My wife feeds the chickens daily, but they hate the snow and usually stay in their house. However, squirrels and an assortment of birds come to feast in both the chicken area and the barnyard. My wife makes sure they are well fed.

Meadows and pastures have little edible grass this time of year so deer are another common visitor to the barnyard. If they arrive early enough they eat bird food with the squirrels and birds. Whenever they arrive, the deer will often linger around the house. We grow some really nice apples, but I prefer my wife not feed those to the deer, so she started buying cooking apples to toss to them.

On this farm, she cares for all creatures, great and small.


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The Farm Pecking Order

 

I confirmed my position on the farm pecking order one morning a couple years ago.

For my city readers, pecking order refers to birds, often chickens. They establish their rank in the flock by pecking on another bird, lower in the social order without fear of retaliation. The pecking order rank establishes who is boss and who gets what food and when.

On this particular morning I rose from bed a few minutes late and stumbled out to the dining room. My breakfast of cereal waited for me on the table, but I couldn’t find my wife Lorraine. Finally, I sat and started eating. Then, the back door opened and she entered.

“Where have you been?” I asked after another bite of cold cereal.

“It’s cold this morning, so I brought warm oatmeal to the chickens.”

That confirmed what I already suspected. When it comes to being pampered with food, my position in the pecking order is below every chicken.

Okay, I admit that isn’t really true, Lorraine has cooked some fantastic meals for me, but she does take very good care of the chickens. They have a large area to roam and forage for food but, as you can tell from the picture (which my wife didn’t like, but after some pleading allowed me to use) she still gives “her girls” watermelon rinds and leftover grapes. If any bread or cake gets dry it doesn’t go into the trash or even the compost, they go straight to the chickens.

They are a pampered bunch of birds.


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Dorky Glasses and the Eclipse

 

What is it about an eclipse that brings out the child in us?

I know it was a rare event, the last one like it occurred in 1918, but several of my friends traveled hundreds of miles and camped out in farm fields just to experience the eclipse totality.

As the eclipse begins.

We read in the local paper that the recent solar eclipse would reach ninety-six percent of totality in this area so; I purchased dorky glasses and invited our sons over to watch from the backyard.

If I made a habit of sitting in the backyard, wearing paper sunglasses and staring up into the sky I think my wife might have my head examined, but on this day she joined me, along with the boys, and we looked like a rather eccentric family having a backyard picnic.

The backyard at ninety-six percent of totality

At first, as the moon moved across the sun, we didn’t notice any change. Even when half of the sun had been blocked we couldn’t tell any difference in the day. Only when the moon blocked the vast majority of the sun did the sky take on the deep blue of evening. As we continued to watch a cool breeze blew.

Still, it amazed me that with ninety-six percent of the sun blocked, it wasn’t even close to dark.

Then the moon moved out of the way, and the hot and bright summer sun shone once again and we returned to the house. What am I going to do with the dorky glasses?


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Hot and Cold

 

I put on a new chain, filled the gas and oil tanks and went out with my chainsaw to tackle a large pile of logs and limbs in the backyard. My tendency to procrastinate had allowed the pile to grow all summer, but my son James had offered to help and this needed to be done. So, on one of the hottest days of the year, I cut wood to use on some of the coldest. We will probably burn these logs in the woodstove around January or February.

Our house has electric heat and in the Pacific Northwest electricity is affordable, but on those really cold days, the woodstove heats our home better than anything else does.

There is a natural rhythm to life in the country. In March as the days grow longer and warmer the chickens go into full summer egg production. In April we hive bees. In May the garden is tilled and planted. During the summer we cut trees (usually the dead or fallen), tend animals and care for the garden. Honey is spun from the honeycomb in September. Also during that month fruits and vegetables are canned and preserved.

Part of that natural rhythm is the cold of January and February. Some years our woodstove will burn for days on end during this time.

By late in the afternoon the chain on the saw had gone dull, but the pile had been reduced to logs and hauled into the woodshed. We were hot and tired, but ready for the cold days of winter.

As I drank a tall glass of cold water I made a pledge to myself. Next year I’m going to cut wood on a cooler day.


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Working hard, so I can rest

I decided to build a patio on a shady knoll beside my home. However, due to my writing schedule and other commitments, it took a couple of months to gather all the materials and find the time to construct it. Finally, on the evening of July 2nd, I had everything I needed.

Stiff and sore, but trying to relax (click to enlarge)

After breakfast the next morning I began construction. It occurred to me that it would be nice if the family could use the patio on Independence Day, but that would mean all the work had to be completed that day.

I worked hard, very hard, on July 3rd. 

July 4th was a lovely warm day here in the northwest. The blue skies were welcome after a long rainy winter and spring. Also, as you can see from the picture, my family and I did enjoy the patio. My relaxation that day was tempered by many stiff and sore muscles. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the patio even more after I’ve recovered from building it.


Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

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Water and Rain in the Northwest

There is a saying that people in the northwest don’t tan—they rust. The coastal region of Washington is well known for ample precipitation. However, most of the rain falls in late autumn and winter. By the time the crops, garden, and orchard are really growing in the late spring and summer the rains have faded to a trickle. That means we irrigate and water.

Kyle checking the hand pump (Click for a larger image)

My place is small, more of a hobby farm than a real one, but watering remains a daily chore. In the picture I’m beside the well house, checking the hand pump. Fortunately, this is just an emergency backup and the electric pump is still working. 

This time of year we water the younger fruit and nut trees in the orchard and all the plants in the garden daily. Each beehive has a water bottle and there are several for the chickens that must be routinely checked. We also have flowers and ornamental trees.

Right now, with both my wife and I working, it takes about an hour each evening to water everything. As the summer continues, and days get warmer, we’ll be doing this in both the morning and evening. But, I'm not complaining, I love the life I have here and wouldn't trade it for anything.


Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

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Hiving the Bees

Spring is bee time on the farm

 Yes, those are bees on the box.

Yes, those are bees on the box.

The bees didn’t arrive yesterday, a warm and sunny day. No, they arrived today when it was cool and wet. We prefer driving to the delivery site in the farm truck. We can put the bee boxes on the truck bed and drive home, but because today was so inclement we took the car for the forty-minute drive. Have you ever driven with ten thousand bees in your car? Our bees were inside two boxes, but it’s still an experience. Some always find a way out.  

On our small farm, we keep bees both for pollination and for honey production, but we lost our last hive during the winter. This video, filmed on April 22, 2017, starts with me retrieving one of our two new colonies of Carniolan honeybees from the greenhouse where we left them while making final hiving preparations.

Lorraine, my wife, went ahead and waited to assist me in the apiary. My son, James, is the cameraman and isn’t wearing a protective suit while he films.

Hopefully, these bees will store up lots of pollen and honey during the summer and survive the upcoming winter.


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Simple Pleasures

In most ways yesterday didn’t stand out from the normal. Dreary and wet are what you get in the northwest this time of year. But living on a farm with forest all around means that you’re going to interact with animals and they often make the day interesting.

Six deer in the backyard

Recent construction required removing part of our backyard fence and I haven’t felt the need to repair it in the cold and rain. One reason we put up the fence was to keep the deer from eating apples from our orchard, but this time of year there’s nothing on the trees.

While I enjoy seeing deer wandering around the farm, the fence downtime has allowed an increasing number to amble into the yard looking for food. They’re welcome to eat the grass and they help themselves to any birdseed or chicken feed they find. Despite my protests that it will only encourage them later in the spring, my wife Lorraine has started throwing apples to them.  

One strolls by while I'm writing

Yesterday was a record setting day with six deer in our backyard at one time. One yearling was camera shy and ran out of frame, so there are only five in the picture.

Lorraine made sure they were fed.

As I finished this blogpos I looked out the window and spotted this deer stroll by the window. I’m going to have to fix that fence before the trees start to bud.


Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

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Death in the Apiary

We had a week of cold and snow on the farm. 

The weather made for some beautiful pictures, which you can see on the Facebook page, but it got very cold. On a mild day this week my wife came in from outside and said, “There’s no activity in the apiary.”

Author Kyle Pratt checks a hive

I like to keep two colonies, but one colony had died last year. I hurried to my one remaining colony.

Bees are very clean and will not defecate in the hive. So, on mild winter days they fly out to take care of business. As I approached it was clear no bees were busy doing business. I put my ear to the hive. No buzzing.

At that point I opened the hive. Thousands of bees were there in a tight cluster—all dead.

Since I see each colony as being in my care, it really saddens me if one dies. I feel there is always something more I could have, or should have, done.
 
After a few days of mourning, I’ll clean out the hive boxes and order two more colonies of Carniolan honey bees through my local bee association.
 
Hopefully, next winter will be mild. 


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Three Pictures

As I gazed at three recently taken pictures it occurred to me that each had something to say about where and how I live.

Kyle Pratt, and friend Pat, standing in the road.

The first picture is of my friend Pat and me (blue shirt) standing in the middle of the dirt road that passes in front of his house. We were waiting for a friend who had never been there before and the road seemed like a good place to keep an eye out for her. During the nearly ten minutes we stood there her car was the only vehicle that came along.

Kyle Pratt in his backyard.

It doesn’t often snow here, but when it does it’s time to get the camera out. My wife Lorraine took this picture of me in the backyard. For many years I lived on military bases and suburban communities and my backyard looked pretty normal for those areas, small with mostly grass and some flowers. In this picture an apple tree obscures the view of the hen house behind it. The apiary is hidden by more trees and a blind. The greenhouse is out of the frame to my right and additional fruit trees are off to the left, but my backyard still looks pretty normal—for this area.

One of my summer jobs is filling the wood shed (also in the backyard) with an ample supply of logs. I do this gradually as I clear trees that have grown to close, are dead or have fallen during windstorms.

Kyle Pratt keeping the home fires burning

The recent snow arrived with arctic cold and was the first time this season we fired up the woodstove. We could use the electric heaters to keep the house comfortable, but we’ve learned that the woodstove actually keeps the house warmer and, since all the wood comes from our property, it costs us very little.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and perhaps I could write more, but I think these three photos say a great deal about the way I choose to live my life. I wouldn’t change any of it.


Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

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Winter is Coming

Living close to nature means that there are annual chores that must be performed.

On a sunny day last week I took some time off from writing and prepared the farm for winter. I opened the one beehive we have this year and made sure the colony was healthy. The workers had sealed every crevice and joint with propolis, a good sign. I added a special insulation box to the top and slid in a bottom board. Winter is a hard time for bees, but the colony is now as ready as they can be.

Preparing equipment was my big job of the day. I did some last minute chainsaw cutting, then cleaned the saw and put it on the shelf. I may need it during the winter if a tree falls, but the woodshed is already full.

Lorraine with the last of the 2016 crop

This place is really just an oversized hobby farm so I use mowers and tillers, not tractors or combines. I cleaned each and emptied the last of the fuel and oil.  

While I performed these chores Lorraine cleaned the hen house. This has to be done often, but it sure is nicer to do it on sunny days. After that, she harvested the last of the fruit from the trees and vegetables from the garden. In the days to come, she will be making pies, applesauce and dehydrating the rest.

Spring has its own special chores, but that is another story.

Spring on the Farm

The greening of the farm inspired me.

As many of you know, I live on a small farm and spring is always a very special time. After a cold and wet (Pacific Northwest) winter it is time to get outside and repair fences, gates and the broken hen house door.

 The redneck joke is on me--chickens in the house.

The redneck joke is on me--chickens in the house.

The greenhouse is so full of budding vegetables that my wife has many in Styrofoam cups on south facing window sills. Peas grow in the garden and the forest is green once again. Tadpoles swim in the pond and chicks are in the house.

That last one may have surprised you.

Those who grew up in the city would certainly find it weird to have baby chicks in the house, but it is still early spring and many days remain still cool and wet. Chicks need a warm and dry location to grow. The picture shows six Ameraucana chicks under a heat lamp in our entryway. Chickens can be really nasty to each other so, in a few months, when they are older, we’ll put them outside, but in a separate area of the chicken yard, and gradually introduce them to the other chickens.

Ah, the rituals of spring! 

Honey Harvest for 2015

The honey harvest this year was very good.

Kyle Pratt ready to harvest from one of his hives.

We have only two hives on our small farm, but even so, the harvest takes nearly all day. After breakfast we set up the equipment, including our honey extractor (basically a hand-crank centrifuge), stainless steel buckets, a couple of food-grade plastic pails, strainers and assorted tools.

Kyle Pratt harvesting honey.

Then we don all of our protective gear because the bees really don’t like what we are about to do. By nine in the morning we are at the apiary and I pulled off the lid of the first hive. The top of the frames in the honey super were covered with thousands of bees and more were inside. Every bee had to be brushed off before the honey frame could be taken. 

By the time my wife and I were done the bees were very mad. That’s why I do the harvest inside. If I harvested outside all those outraged bees would crawl over everything and try to sting me. After I removed the appropriate frames and brushed off the bees, I passed them to my wife. She took them to our garage, where we had everything ready for extraction.

Lorraine Pratt looks over twenty pounds of honey.

When I finished, and closed the hives, I joined my wife inside for the harvest. Using a long knife we cut the comb open and place the frames into the centrifuge. Then I cranked and cranked. It takes a lot of arm work, but the honey soon begins to flow and continues in a slow stream for hours. By the end of the day, my wife and I harvested 308 fluid ounces of honey or over twenty pounds.

Don’t worry about the bees. We take only the excess; most of the honey is left in the hive, so they can eat during the winter.

The New Hive

Spring is a busy time for the beekeeper.

I only had one bee colony that survived the winter and I have been feeding them a sugar-water syrup for a few weeks. Thursday night my new colony of bees arrived.  

My surviving colony is of Italian bees, from the Apennine Peninsula of Italy, they are the most popular type of bee in America, but may not be the best suited the Pacific Northwest. Since I was ordering a new colony I decided to get Carniolan bees, from the region of Carniola, now in Slovenia. They are the second most popular species among beekeepers and are known for working in cooler temperatures, resistance to some diseases and parasites and being adept at adjusting worker population to nectar availability. This may help in early spring.

I won’t really know if they are a good fit for my apiary for about a year, but you rest assured I’ll keep you informed. 

Opening the Hive

Spring time brings extra chores for those living on a farm.

Normally, I keep two bee colonies, but only one survived the winter. On a warm day earlier this month I opened the remaining hive to check on the colony. I try to find the queen, see if she is laying eggs, ensure there is enough food and, check to see if they workers are planning to swarm (break away and form a new colony).

Taking the hive apart gets the bees very mad. I was fully suited up and not worried, but my brave wife, Lorraine, did the video. That meant she needed one hand uncovered to control the camera. At one point several bees landed on her hand. Fortunately, for both of us, she didn’t get stung.

I didn’t find the queen, but everything else looked healthy. I’ve have another colony of bees on order. They should arrive in April.

I wonder if I can get Lorraine to film that? 

Busy Bees & Keepers

Spring is a busy time for bees and beekeepers.

For most of the country this winter has snowy and cold, but in western Washington state the weather has been mild. As a beekeeper this is both a blessing and a problem.

If the winter is short and mild it is a blessing in that the bees use less food and plants bloom early. This gives the bees a longer period to build up supplies for the next winter. However, the weather is mild, but winter returns, the entire colony might starve because of the postponed spring. Right now it looks like winter will continue to fade away.

I have three hives (the boxes), but only keep two colonies of bees for to pollenate my garden and orchard. While I’ve done this for eight years, what I know I learned through trial and error (many errors) and by reading books. I’ve never taken a class—until now. I took this picture as the second session of the apprentice beekeeping class ended today. While I’m probably beyond the apprentice level, I’ve learned things during both sessions. The class has three more sessions.

The smiling woman, with lanyard, is Susanne Weil, one of the officers of our local beekeeping association. She is standing behind two hive boxes.

I have only one colony of bees, but I’ll be ordering a package of bees in a couple of days. A package consists of a queen and around 2000 bees in a box. While they arrive I’ll do a blogpost about it.  

Living What I Write

I don’t just write survival or prepper themed books, I live the life.

Kyle Pratt with a bee frame

Many of the people who aren’t involved in prepping think of those who are as crazy. I think of prepping as insurance against unforeseen problems. Where I live in Lewis county, Washington state, it can flood this time of year. During winter storms the power can go out. I like knowing that I’m prepared.

As part of my chosen lifestyle I live on a small farm. Most farm activities lend themselves naturally to a prepping lifestyle. One thing we do on the farm is raise bees. It’s a small operation, only two honey bee hives, but we usually harvest a nice amount of honey.

Lewis County Beekeepers Assn. meeting

I’ve been a member of the Lewis County Beekeepers’ Association for years. A few days ago I showed up for a meeting and noticed a sign by the door, “Capacity 82.” The room was nearly full when I showed up so, just to amuse myself, I counted heads. There were over seventy people in the room. It was nice to see that many people interested in bees from our rural county. Especially, this time of year when the bees are in their winter cluster in the hive.

Orchard Mason bee homes and supplies

The topic that night was the orchard mason bee, a native bee of North America that is also dormant this time of year. The speaker, Tim Weible shared some great information about how to build mason bee houses (they don’t live in hives), their biology, coping with mites and more.

I live close to nature and when the animals, insects and planets on the farm are doing well I know that I’m better prepared for whatever might come.