Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chicks for Hannah

I made a special field trip this week, along with a couple of our resident chicks, to see Hannah . We had a nice visit, as you can see here.

Sorry about the poor quality of the photos - we used my cell phone camera to take them! Hannah lacks fine motor skills, but she was definitely interested in these babies! She just needed a little help to fine-tune her snuggles!

In fact, I think our visit excited Hannah enough that she quickly tired out, as you can see below. Look at that sleepy face! The lovely lady in the photo is Hannah's nurse, Bobbie, who graciously agreed to help Hannah enjoy her visit with the chicks AND to have her photo published on this blog.

And, yes, everyone involved made sure their hands were clean after we played with the baby chicks! With the nurse and Mom, Dad and Big Brother on patrol, no germs had a chance!

One thing the visit highlighted was Hannah's desperate need for a new room. She's growing fast and all of her equipment and supplies take up most of the space in her room. Hannah's Mom is working on fundraising for a new room, but these things take time, so Hannah, the nurses and the family are making the best of the situation for now.

The family suffered a serious setback a few months ago when someone broke into the family van and stole Hannah's wheelchair. If you know anyone with any kind of physical limitations, you know that the equipment that keeps them mobile is a lifeline. You can't look at a specially-designed pediatric-sized wheelchair and NOT realize that it belongs to a special needs child. What kind of lowlife steals a wheelchair from a special needs child?

At any rate, it looks like the wheelchair is being replaced, and the fundraising efforts are still ongoing. If you get a chance, stop by Hannah's blog and say hello!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Hummingbirds Are Back!

This is my favorite time of year - I have flowers blooming everywhere, little seedlings are popping up in the garden and we have baby chicks brooding under a heat lamp in the garage. And, of course, the hummingbirds are returning from their winter migration!

We have several hummingbird feeders that we hang every spring. By midsummer, it's a veritable hummingbird buffet and we're refilling the feeders every couple of days. The little birds are fearless - they'll feed even if people are sitting on the porch a few feet from the feeders.

We love watching them - they swoop and dive and have epic battles over access to the feeders. A couple of years ago we even had a white hummingbird - she stayed for most of the summer, but hasn't returned since.

We make our own hummingbird solution using one cup of sugar to four cups of water. We don't use food coloring - the feeders attract the birds just fine without it, and some experts think the coloring might be harmful to the birds. Some websites advocate boiling the sugar solution, but we use well water, so it doesn't contain some of the impurities you might find in water from a municipal supply.

Last year things really got busy after the babies hatched - we had young birds and older birds visiting the feeders, and taking advantage of all the hummingbird-friendly plants I put in the flowerbeds. At one point I counted twenty birds at the various feeders and perching on the flowers. No wonder we were refilling those feeders so often!

I can't wait to see how many show up this year!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Potatoes in a Barrel

We planted our potatoes last week here at Clay Hill Farm. I don't grow potatoes in the ground, though - I grow them in barrels. It's really easy, and the yields are very good. You can grow up to forty pounds of potatoes in each barrel, depending upon the size of the barrel.

Potato plants are actually attractive, and they look good in containers. Only these containers can help cut your grocery bill this fall, and growing your own potatoes is fun!

If you want to grow your own potatoes in a barrel, select your container first. You can use a barrel, or a large pot, or a growing bag, or one of the commercially available potato barrels. I've even heard of using old tires, and stacking them as the plants grow. Potatoes are remarkably versatile and will grow almost anywhere.

Make sure there are holes or an opening in the bottom of your container for drainage. Put three inches (or so) of dirt in the bottom of the container. Season your seed potatoes by cutting them into chunks with one or two eyes per chunk, and let them sit and dry for a day or so. Then plant your seed potato chunks in the dirt.

When the potato plants get three or four inches high, cover all but the top inch in more dirt, Keep doing that until your container is full of dirt. This essentially creates a very long root, and little potatoes will sprout all along the length of it.

When the plants have flowered and the flowers have died back, your potatoes are ready to harvest. Tip the barrel and pick up your potatoes. It's that easy. You can harvest new potatoes in the summer by gently reaching into the soil and pulling out the baby spuds before the big harvest in the fall, but we usually don't do that. We wait for the big motherlode in early fall - taters everywhere!!!!

We dump a barrel every couple of weeks when it's time to harvest the potatoes. This helps keep the potatoes from spoiling, as they might if we harvested all the barrels at once.

I don't re-use potato barrel dirt from one year to the next. This year's potato dirt will go into the compost pile and spend a year or so helping the worms break down vegetable wastes and chicken and horse manure before I put it back into circulation in a raised bed or container or tilled into a flower bed. This is because potatoes are susceptible to blight and you don't want to allow the blight to establish itself in your dirt.

If you want more information on growing your own potatoes, here are some links:




Monday, April 5, 2010

Graduation Present for the Farm

Long-term readers of this blog may recall that Clay Hill Farm is actually a little less than half of a bigger, shared farm that we call Thistledew Farm. The name came about when Melissa and I were joking about names for the farm - Melissa and her husband had picked Thistledew as a name many years ago, and I pointed out the big clay mound where our building site had been cleared. "I have to name this side Clay Hill!" And, it's been Clay Hill and Thistledew ever since.

So, many of the things we do around here are joint ventures. Melissa and I garden together, care for the horses and chickens together, and generally collaborate on all manner of things. I made it through anesthesia school, in part, due to the support of everyone here at Thistledew.

And my standing joke during my senior year in anesthesia school involved a tractor as a graduation present to myself, and to everyone else for putting up with me during those long years. It wasn't entirely a joke, though - we really do need a tractor around here. And now we have one! We went to the local Kubota dealership and debated the merits of the various tractors. Here's Melissa, trying one on for size:

Everybody had different priorities for the tractor - the guys wanted a backhoe for some of the heavy work, and Melissa and I wanted a tiller. We needed a tractor that was big enough to handle the heavy work but not so big that we couldn't maneuver it in tight spaces around the farm.

We finally settled on a tractor that fit everyone's needs. We hope! And here we are at tractor school, with the perfect specimen! Isn't she gorgeous?

Melissa and I wanted to name her Bunny, because she came to us at Easter Weekend. But the boys vetoed that, and suggested an alternative - Smokey. This isn't a bad name - we live on the edge of the Smokey Mountains, after all. And I went to anesthesia school (and now work part-time) at The University of Tennessee, where the mascot is Smokey and the school color is bright orange.

Here's the real Smokey in his regalia:

And our own Smokey has already been hard at work, tilling the ground for our spring garden. But I haven't had the nerve to drive her yet!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, everyone! I was on call yesterday and had to go in for about four hours - not too bad. Then we had some unexpected visitors, so we threw dinner together and had a nice visit, which has extended into today.

I replanted my porch containers and got a flower bed cleaned out in the interim, but there's still a lot of work to be done. Oh, and I finally got my (our!) graduation present - but that's for another post!

Friday, April 2, 2010


Thank Goodness It's Friday! I have the day off today and I'm on call tomorrow, and I'm really praying that nobody needs surgery tomorrow. I know that's unlikely, but can you imagine being in the hospital Easter weekend? I don't wish that on anyone.

This has been a very busy week. I worked, of course, but during all of my normal down-time I helped with interviews for the new class of student nurse anesthetists. That was an eye-opening experience! I had no idea how much work went into it.

All of the candidates send in their files - transcripts, work histories, application essays, and various other items. Each item is given a numerical score. All of those numerical scores are tallied up and the top forty or so candidates are invited for an interview.

Then the interview takes place. We ask a series of questions and each answer gets a numerical score. These scores are tallied with the pre-interview scores and we come up with the top fifteen candidates, who are then invited to join the program. I've simplified this here, because the process actually took several weeks and involved some discussion/debate - each faculty member had different ideas about what makes the perfect candidate!

We had a really great group of applicants this time. We honestly could have taken anybody in the top thirty or so, and had a strong class. This makes it difficult, because sometimes the thing that separates one candidate from another is simply a few points on a test. I really hope that some of the folks who didn't get in this year will be persistent enough to re-apply next year, because I really liked so many of them!

And, essentially, I've taken on a second job with this faculty thing. I'm excited about it - I love working with students and I love to teach and I think I can be good at it, but we'll see. For the moment, I have the day off and there's a chicken coop to clean and garden beds to build and I really ought to muck out the pastures. My pretty suit is hanging in the closet and today's uniform is old jeans and a t-shirt. Have a great weekend, everyone!