I was recently interviewed by the Buffalo News for an article on the challenges that two escaped killers face in the woods of the Adirondacks. The article gives great insight into their mental states, and helps explain why they have been able to be elusive for so long. You can read the full article here:
Well, no one can ever say that I have never had my finger inside of a live chicken. While there’s not a ton going on at the homestead this time of year, the chickens have been keeping me pretty busy. But tonight takes the cake.
Whitey was acting strange all day. She’s usually the sketchiest one of the girls, so her allowing me to pet her was definitely out of the ordinary. With her being so lethargic, I decided that it would be best to bring her inside for the night. She can be warm and get plenty of rest, plus if she had something contagious this will hopefully keep the other birds from getting it.
I did some research and found that the three most common issues would be mites, worms, or being egg-bound. I checked her for mites and was good there, and I have to wait for her to poop to check for worms, so the next thing on the list was to check for a stuck egg.
I felt her belly and didn’t feel an egg or anything abnormal, so the next way to see if she has a stuck egg is to reach inside and feel. I enlisted my nine-year-old step son to help and we scooped her up. I put on a latex glove and smeared some medical lubricant on my finger. We parted the feathers around Whitey’s vent and as he giggled nervously and backed up a couple of steps he commented that her vent looked like a mouth. He didn’t get any closer.
I felt up inside the vent to see I could feel an egg, and found nothing. I still have to check for worms in the morning, but am hoping she just had a rough day and wasn’t feeling well. I doubt very much that my finger helped, but we won’t really know until tomorrow.
With the unrelenting cold forcing the chickens to stay inside more than normal, we’ve had some behavioral issues as well. Stella had taken to eating her own and the other hens’ eggs. She was definitely the instigator, trying to get to eggs that hadn’t even been laid yet by pecking at the other hens as they laid in the nesting box. But once the eggs were cracked, it was a noisy free-for-all that left all the chickens with with yolk on them.
This was a problem for the obvious reason that we were getting only an egg or two a day, and also in the nasty behavior department. They had plenty of water, and the eggs we were getting had rock-hard shells so it wasn’t a calcium deficiency. Sometimes an egg will just break on it’s own and once they get a taste, the chickens can’t help themselves.
But since it was such a serious issue and not a random egg now and then, I had to take action. I checked the coop as often as I could, and made sure they had more than enough food and water, as well as giving them supplemental treats like mealworms and fresh greens. Nothing I did for the first couple of weeks worked.
So I ordered some fake eggs, made of ceramic. They arrived and looked exactly like the eggs Brownie lays, and best of all, they are rock hard. They’re so realistic that I added a big “F” to each egg in permanent marker so I could tell they weren’t real eggs.
I opened the coop and tossed the two fake eggs into the corner area where the girls lay. Immediately Stella came over and started checking them out. She eyed them all sorts of ways, tilting her head this way and that. Suddenly, she took a shot and pecked one of the eggs.
Her beak and head bounced off the egg with a loud and sharp “crack.” She once again eyed the eggs and then wandered off. The next morning there were four real eggs in the corner in addition to the two fake ones, and we’ve been getting between four and six eggs a day ever since. I may have to occasionally stick my finger into a chicken butt, but at least now I can keep getting eggs in return.
Welp, I finally got one of those fancy phones with a camera and the ability to connect to the internet. So if you’re interested in seeing lots of pictures of chickens and hiking trails, follow me on Instagram at @JALEVINE6
Oh, and if you follow me, I will follow you back!
The chickens are happily pecking away in their new coop and run, and I do feel better having them in a fully insulated coop, now that the night temperatures are getting into the single digits. They’re all huddled on the perch, snuggling to stay warm. At least now I can flip a switch and they have heat. Last winter it was warming a piece of granite on top of the woodstove and then running it out there to try and keep them warm. I like that they won’t be in my living room this year. At all.
But the weather has limited the outdoor activities. I don’t mind warm rain or cold snow, but cold rain is annoying. I don’t want to go hiking and there’s no snow for skiing, and with such a little piece of property, even mine and Pico’s walks have to be on the road. It’s not too bad, but he is still getting used to the leash again, and I miss being able to just let him run around unattended.
One benefit of this type of weather though is that I don’t feel too bad doing indoor projects. A couple months ago I made a new cutting board for us and read that it could be sealed with beeswax. I had a huge block of wax around, and so I spent the evening melting wax, rubbing it on the board, and then heating the whole thing in the oven over and over to make a nice sealant for the cutting board.
I used the board the next day, and most of the wax came off when I washed it. Seemed like a good idea, but in reality, it just didn’t pan out. I got some mineral oil and treated the board, and it’s now nice and waterproof. But I still have a huge block of beeswax just hanging around.
So I had to figure out what I was going to do with the wax. I didn’t want to make candles, as I used to make them all the time out at the cabin. I would make them all the time by melting down the little stubs of the candles I burned for light. So as I was sitting on the couch one day, my stepson asked if we had any lip balm. His lips were chapped and he wanted some relief.
I ordered empty lip balm tubes and picked up some peppermint essential oil and coconut oil in town, and waited patiently for the tubes to arrive. And as soon as they did, I thought I’d have my answer of what to do with all that beeswax. Making the lip balm should have been really simple. Melt the oils and wax together, pour it into the tubes, and let them cool.
I would have done the whole melting process on my woodstove, but hey, now I have a microwave! We gathered all the materials, and he was pretty excited. After making him wash his hands a couple of times (who knows what a nine-year-old is doing when out of sight) we got into it. After thirty seconds in the microwave, the beeswax was barely melted, but that was apparently enough for the microwave. It was dead. It was also bad timing, since I had promised this kid his very own lip balm.
We moved to the range top and managed to melt enough to make a few tubes of the lip balm. It’s got a menthol-coconut taste that all three of us love, and it actually works really well. Plus, since it’s in tubes, he doesn’t have to stick his nasty fingers into the stuff to put it on.
I love having the convenience of modern appliances, and the fact that whole process didn’t require a headlamp was a really nice touch. But I was reminded of the fraility of those electronics. Sure, it would have been slower to do this on the woodstove, but at least the woodstove wouldn’t have died in the middle of it.
When you already have a garden, one of the best ways to benefit from it long-term is to save and store the seeds that your garden produces. Instead of buying seeds every year to plant, why not just save a few from each plant and use them again next year?
Of course, some plant seeds stay and store better than others. Also, letting certain plants get to the point where they are producing seeds can mean that they are not all that useful for consumption. But you can always plant an extra one or two and allow them to go to seed. Most plants produce more than enough seeds for you to have a viable garden the following year.
Aquatic plants and large-seeded plants (such as oak, avocado, etc) are very hard to store. Larger seeds tend to need a fair amount of moisture to remain viable, and the amount of moisture required will lead to fungal growth and rot in a short period of time. If you have oaks around, harvest the acorns and make nut butter right away. Let the squirrels bury the seeds for you, and you’ll have some new trees in a few years.
These seeds, unfortunately, really need to be planted right away in order for them to germinate. However, there are a wide variety of seeds that you can save all winter long, and maybe even for more than just a single winter.
Small seeded plants, like most garden vegetables, are relatively easy to save. These seeds are what’s called desiccant-tolerant. This means that they are able to survive and remain viable even when dried out.
Peas, carrots, beans, and herb seeds are all very hardy seeds that can handle being dried and stored for long periods of time before they lose their viability. However, you do have to be careful how you handle, dry, and store the seeds. You can’t just grab the seeds off of the plant, throw them in a baggie and then plant them next spring. Well, you could, but there are ways to improve the chance that those seeds produce healthy plants for your garden.
Seeds, like any other organic matter, are subject to rot if not handled properly. The reason an individual plant produces so many more seeds than is necessary is due to evolution. This adaption takes into account that a large portion of any seeds produced will either be eaten, rot, or not survive until adulthood.
By properly drying and storing those same seeds, however, you can greatly increase the amount of usable seeds you have. One individual plant will produce more seeds than you could possible use before the seeds are no longer any good.
The first and most important step in preserving seeds is drying them. In nature, most seeds spend the winter months frozen in the ground, where the ice crystals actually make the ground very dry. The seeds should be spread out in a shady, cool, dry place. Also, don’t make a pile of seeds, spread them out thinly on paper towels or something similar.
Properly dried seeds will show basically no flexibility. Beans and peas will be rock hard, and larger seeds will not bend. Obviously, larger seeds need more time to dry than smaller seeds.
If you live in an area with high humidity, then you will probably want to use a desiccant. Those little packages of silica gel that you get for free with a new pair of shoes are there for a reason: They make it so that your new shoes are not all moldy. They do the same thing for seeds, though you probably want to buy some silica gel instead of using the packages from your shoes.
Once the seeds are dry, place them in an air-tight container like a glass jar or baggie. Store them slightly below freezing, and they should be good for a very long time. Just try to think what a seed goes through before it germinates, and you can have an idea of what needs to be done to save them.
Saving and storing seeds is a long-running activity for those of us who garden and want to be self-sufficient. By properly drying and storing seeds from your garden, you can almost guarantee that you will never have to buy seeds again.
The sound of the furnace startles me a little every time it fires up. It sounds like a car pulling in the driveway or something like that, and I am still not quite used to the sound and commotion. Not that it’s not welcome. We’ve got about six inches of snow on the ground, not terrible, but it did seem kind of sudden.
Last week it was warm and nice out, and even though we know it’s inevitable, the snow just sort of seemed to come out of nowhere. After moving an old set of tires into the garage and digging out and picking up a few other things that were out in the yard, I feel like our outside stuff is all set. Except for the huge new chicken coop that is sitting in the middle of the driveway. Audrey’s not all that happy about the current location of our new coop, and with the temperatures dropping, it would be nice to move the girls into the new coop.
While moving twice and having to rent a house have not lent themselves to accomplishing much in the way of homesteading activity, we have managed to move more in that direction. We started by expanding our flock of chickens by adding three new hens and I built them a new coop. The old coop served surprisingly well for the amount I spent on it (which was the cost of a box of screws). Midget and Whitey unfortunately got frostbite on their combs but they’re none the worse for wear.
But now, we’ve got a small house for them to live in this winter, but it’s in the wrong place and we want to move it before we move the girls in. That may not happen to be honest. This coop is big and will be very, very hard to move. Not the smartest thing to do when renting a house, but the girls will be warmer and more secure than they ever have been.
We want to add to the flock in the spring, so I built the coop big enough for twelve chickens to live comfortably. There’s six nesting boxes, twenty-four square feet of floor space, a five foot high ceiling, a four foot perch and two foot swing made from an old ax handle. Fully insulated and painted and trimmed, this coop is actually nicer than my cabin, and will hold the heat better. And instead of heating big rocks on the woodstove to run out to the coop, I can now just plug in a heat lamp. It’s not a bad trade, given the circumstances.
But until spring, we’re sort of spinning our wheels. Other than taking care of the chickens, I have plans to make some lip balm and another batch of soap, and start ordering seeds for the garden we’ll plant next year. I would be making lip balm today, but a couple of the ingredients that I ordered are stuck in Buffalo. I have a feeling I won’t see them any time soon.
Rainy and in the forties. This is the worst type of weather I face all year. I know, the snow is just gone, and I had to have my chickens live in a tent in my kitchen for a few nights, but hiking in and saving the chickens from the bitter cold were easy decisions. This weather presents a much tougher decision: whether to burn the precious little dry wood I have left.
Even with a few weeks off from the cabin this winter, my wood supply is quite low now. The wood I found over the winter isn’t quite dry enough to burn, and it’s a tough call to use up wood when it’s still above freezing. If the temperature doesn’t dip too low, I’ll bundle up with a sleeping bag and run the little propane heater for a little while in the morning before it warms up outside. But this cold damp calls for a fire.
I’ve got the glass doors wide open, and the fire is crackling away behind the grate that keeps the sparks in. I didn’t realize how much of a difference the new stove really made until just the other day. I had a fire going with the grate in place, and when I came back in I noticed a smell I hadn’t smelled in some time. The cabin smelled like wood smoke, and it was actually pleasant. That smell had been ruined for me by the old woodstove, which used to belch smoke inside with such regularity that I was sometimes called the Walking Woodstove.
I like being able to hear the pop and crackle and have an unobstructed view of the flames. Sure, it’s not all that efficient to use the grate, but honestly, I don’t want it too hot in here. The trouble with the temps in the forties is that it’s too cold not to have a fire, but too warm if I do have a fire. And there’s the rub.
It’s just another one of life’s seasonal transitions out here. I have to make calculated decisions on heating and the wood supply. But I also have to be comfortable. It can be a grueling choice to make. There have been, however, several choices I’ve made recently that were considerably easier.
The first was to order more chickens. Amy and I split an order, and I picked them up from the post office yesterday. The little chicks were peeping like crazy in the seat next to me on the way from the post office. With the weather being so damp and cold, the chicks will be staying at Amy’s for a couple of weeks. Plus, I don’t want Midget to get too rough with the new girls. They have to be big enough to put him in his place, even if judging by the behavior of Whitey, Brownie, and Blondie he is quite the charmer.
I’m excited to expand the group with a few new girls. A silver laced wyandotte and three Auraucanas are going to be joining the flock in a couple of weeks, just when the weather gets nice. In addition to these four new girls, I took a fertilized egg from each of my current girls to Amy’s. She has a hen that’s very broody right now, and I thought it would be fun to see if she’ll hatch some of Midget’s offspring. This hen was just sitting in an empty nesting box when I got there. She’s so intent on sitting on eggs that she wouldn’t get up when I pushed her. I had to lift her butt and put the eggs down underneath her. She made a quiet noise and settled back in, so we’ll see how it goes.
And finally, as much as doubling my chicken flock may impact my life, this final decision will no doubt have a bigger impact. I’m sorry to say, but I will in all likelihood not be living in this cabin at the end of the year. I asked my girlfriend to marry me, and for some strange, unknown, and possibly unknowable reason, she said yes. And fortunately or unfortunately, my little cabin is no place for us to start our lives together.
I give her a lot of credit for putting up with my living situation for so long. For almost two years she has never once complained about the toilet paper being in the oven, or having to hike in, or being covered in dog fur when she leaves. I guess I owe it to her for us to find a place that has indoor plumbing, electricity, TV, internet, a refrigerator, and an oven. I can go either way on the electricity or TV, but my bride-to-be deserves nothing but the best. And in my opinion, indoor plumbing is the best. Jeez, I’ve been out here too long.
Experience the excitement of living off the grid, while enjoying the beautiful sights and sounds of Mother Nature right outside your door!
I’m looking for a roommate who isn’t afraid of roughing it and having some adventure! You will get back to nature by having to venture outside to use the bathroom, regardless of the temperature. Oh, and forgetting the warm toilet seat hanging over the stove when you go to the outhouse in the middle of winter should be the definition of adventure in the dictionary! You will make faces and sounds you never knew were possible, but don’t worry, there won’t be anyone to see or hear you except the birds! (I won’t be able to hear you because the outhouse is quite a walk from the cabin. Privacy at its best right there!)
You’ll also become a lean, mean, healthy machine! The quarter-mile walk from where you can park up to the cabin will ensure that you’re getting plenty of cardio! It’s like a double bonus when you forget something small in the car and have to go back for it too! You can walk almost a whole mile before you get to the cabin if you manage to just leave one important thing in your car! Not only that, but you’ll be expected to carry a forty pound jug of water up the long, snowy hill to the cabin at least a couple of times per week, so your arms will be big around as tree trunks!
And speaking of tree trunks, you can really commune with nature by helping to cut down trees for our firewood! Hippies rejoice! You will literally be hugging trees every single day of the year! You’ll help carrying the logs down to the cabin, get to gently caress them as you set them up for me to split with a huge metal maul, and then get to stack them in the most efficient and fast way possible. You can then round out the beautiful circle of life when you bring the firewood in to burn in the woodstove! Give your woodland buddies a little smooch before confining them to a slow, smoky, and brutal death!
And that’s only the beginning of the benefits! Buy some books and get a library card because you will be the braniac your mom always knew you could be! With no TV, movies, or internet, your brain will get to be as sharp as the chain on the chainsaw. You can read about taking care of chickens or which type of lettuce will grow best in the garden or try to identify which type of snake just slithered in through the unscreened and open front door and other exciting things! Gone will be the days of lying around on the couch rotting your brain on the boob tube. You’ll be so starved for amusement that you won’t even be able to blink when there is a TV on near you due to the complete lack of visual stimulus that a completely unbroken white landscape provides.
As mentioned above, you’ll have complete and total privacy in the outhouse. But living in the middle of the woods at the very end of a dead end road with a quarter mile of trees and hills separating you from the closest motor vehicle also provides a ton of solitude! It’s so liberating being able to walk around naked inside the cabin with no fear of anyone just walking by and seeing your birthday suit! Of course, since we’ll be roommates, we may have to figure out a birthday suit schedule. The hours allotted to nakedness will depend on your facial hair and gender.
I’ll expect you to also do half of the household chores. These won’t occupy more than fifteen or twenty hours a week, and really aren’t so bad. You’ll have to help with the dishes, and as we have to carry water in to wash dishes, you will be tasked with making sure that you have enough water to actually wash the dishes. Allowing my dog to simply lick the plates clean can only be done at my discretion. Oh, and there is no indoor plumbing at all, so when washing the dishes, you will have to keep an eye on the bucket under the sink that catches all the water and waste from brushing our teeth and dishes and cooking. When the bucket is full, just take it out and dump it on the compost pile, not so bad, right?! But since you’re at the compost pile, go ahead and spend five or ten minutes stirring it.
There’s also carrying in firewood every single morning and night, and even sometimes in the middle of the night. It’s a rare treat to see how clear the skies and how bright the stars are on a crystal clear, moonless winter night! You’ll forget all about the bone crushing temperatures that would kill you in less than a half hour if you were to fall on the ice and knock yourself out! Plus, you’ll get to know the cute girl at the hardware store because you’ll be there every week getting batteries for your headlamp. In fact, you can probably get to know her well enough to ask her out! Of course, convincing a member of the opposite sex to travel two miles down a dirt road to walk a quarter mile into the woods with you might be a tough sell. But hey, weirder things have happened!
I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not all glory and sunshine and fun little jaunts to the outhouse. There are a few downsides, too. The cabin only has single-pane windows and no insulation. But, this just means that you’ll get to snuggle up tight in your favorite sleeping bag with a rating of twenty below zero! There is also no way for any sort of professional or volunteer help to get here. That means that the cops, volunteer fire department, or ambulance will be around to help if you cut your leg with chainsaw or fall off the roof cleaning the chimney or break your ankle walking to the woodshed. But you will become far more self-sufficient and your tolerance for pain will get to be much better! Now that I think about it, it is all glory and sunshine! Give me a call to schedule a meeting, I pinky swear I’m not a serial killer.
Rent is very cheap for females lacking facial hair and males with lots of facial hair. The rent goes up depending on the combination of those two factors.
I sat outside most of the afternoon, relaxing in a lawn chair enjoying a good book. As I sat there soaking up the sun, the snow melted around me. The chicken coop roof is clear after being baked in the sun all day, and the snow fossils of old footprints are appearing and melting again in less than a day.
The chickens have been enjoying the warmer weather and longer days too. For a couple of months, I hadn’t gotten more than an egg per day from the three girls, and sometimes not even that. But in the last week, I’ve gotten more than a dozen eggs as they’ve been basking in the sunlight.
The chickens are eating better too, finding food in the melting snow that they missed the first time around. Unfortunately, they are not the only ones scratching around for food by the chicken coop.
A few nights ago, we got a few inches of snow. I woke up and let the girls out and fed them. In my early morning haze, I failed to notice the set of tracks going from behind my cabin, around the coop and run, and then off into the woods via the left trail.
An hour or so later, after I had made some coffee, I looked out the big window and finally noticed the tracks. I was looking at them puzzled, knowing that Pico often walked a similar route around the coop. But then I noticed that the tracks came from my left, behind the cabin. This is not an area that Pico frequents.
I grabbed my camera and went out to do some tracking. I immediately noticed that the tracks were smaller than Pico’s. Working backwards from the coop, I followed the tracks around the cabin to the window right next to my bed. This sly little fox had walked on the snow right up to my window without ever waking up or arousing Pico. What a lousy guard dog.
The fox had come from the direction of the Upper Camp, and even crossed paths with some rabbits over by the woodshed. The previous night I hadn’t locked the chickens up because it was going to be warm, but from then on I have locked them up every night.
I’ve only seen the fox tracks one other time, but it still puts me on edge. I know it won’t be able to get the girls at night when they’re locked in the coop. I just hope that the fox isn’t desperate enough to come around during the day.
The sun is shining later and later each day, and some of the snow is melting and dripping off of the roof in front of the big window. It’s officially been spring for almost a week now, but don’t bother telling Mother Nature that. The forecasted thirteen degrees below zero tonight isn’t as bad as the negative twenty-three we got a couple of nights ago, so I guess, in a way we are getting more spring-like temperatures. But again, temperatures in the negative teens aren’t that spring-like to me.
I’ve been back at the cabin full time, and having a few weeks off from living out here was definitely nice. After three winters having to haul in water and use an outhouse no matter the temperature, the shine of living off grid has worn off. I still enjoy many, many aspects of it, but this winter has definitely been a mood killer for me. I was able to tap a few of the maple trees the other day and start collecting sap, but it’s been slow going with the cold returning. And the hike up the driveway isn’t any easier than it was in February.
But while the winter goes on, I cling to the knowledge that spring is indeed near. I certainly don’t feel alone in my antipathy towards winter at this point, but there are still some advantages to having this much snow on the ground.
Last night I was driving home just after dark and spotted a flash of white on the side of the road up ahead. Yes, I know that everything is covered in snow that there are “flashes of white” literally everywhere, but this small patch was moving quickly. My initial thought was that it was deer hopping the snow bank to head into the woods. But with the more than two feet of snow on the ground at my cabin, deer tracks are something I haven’t seen in quite a few months.
I instinctively tapped the breaks and looked for another deer. Usually when there’s one, there’s more, and hitting a deer and wrecking my car at this point would probably make me throw up my hands and move back to Florida. I looked up and saw a spread of wings in front of me, and realized that it wasn’t a deer but the tail end of a rather large owl taking off that I had caught a glimpse of.
The owl wasn’t very far in front of me, but I never got a good look at it because it was flying directly away from me. It had a wingspan of a couple of feet and was certainly impressive in size, but what species it was I couldn’t say.
I wondered why the owl had been on the snow bank so I stopped to have a look. I had obviously interrupted a kill in progress, and after snapping a few photos, I moved on. I didn’t want to keep the owl from his fresh meal. Plus, after this rough winter, I kind of feel like all of us up here are in it together. Even the animals.