I would love to get some input here please!

Has anyone else noticed any weather, seasonal, insect, reptile, bird, or critter changes?  I’m not really talking about the change in an insect or animal itself, but more in their natural movements.

We have noticed lots of little changes over the last few years.  Small things like when the Robins show up in spring (This last year they never left, and we had a very unusual winter here.).  We already have seen a full size flying grasshopper, and a large number of butterflies – – they are not supposed to be here for a while yet?  Usually the tiny baby browns show up first.  Then the multi-colored one-inch-ers (yes that is a word in my dictionary – ha ha).  But not this year, the big ones are just here – AND FLYING?!

flying hopper 1    flying hopper 2

The weather has been strange enough, but the oddities in the critters is just wacko (yep, another Rachels’ dictionary addition).

  • Mega blizzards in April that did not go away in 3-days or less.
  • An opossum right up in our yard just after one of those blizzards.
  • Grasshoppers at least a month too soon.
  • Robins that never left.
  • Barn Swallows before all the leaves on the trees are out.
  • No foxes or coyote’s – not a sound.

These are just a few of the strange things we have noticed.

I know that some can be blamed on the ocean current patterns, but that seems to mainly affect the weather.  I also know about tectonic plate shifts.  That may be why there have been (or seems to be) more volcanoes erupting.  But how do you explain all the critters?


Their natural instincts are way better than mine.  I just get the feeling that they are trying to tell me, or us, something and we are not listening.

see and understand sign

So, my hope here is that some of you will have a response for me.  Are you having the same issues?  Have you even noticed anything different?

Ok, before you all freak out and want to have me committed, NO – I AM NOT A DOOMSDAY PREPPER!  I do believe in being prepared (it’s the 4-H-er in me), but no end of the world stuff yet (Oh and we love watching The Walking Dead – the human condition side of it is awesome!).  I/we do things like canning, buying in bulk on major stuff like coffee, sugar, flour, toilet paper etc.  We have our own chickens for meat and eggs.  A cow is in our field right now and half of it will be in our freezer by winter.

We are striving to get off the grid, just because we like to be independent.  Everything takes time and money to obtain, so we just move along one step at a time.  But the critters are freaking me out!  Normal patterns do not seem “normal” anymore.

Please let me know that I’m not crazy (ok, just tell me gently if I am – LOL)!  Do you see what I see?

owl peek


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We never clean up our leaves at the end of fall. They keep all of our flower beds, trees, and bushes nice and cozy until spring and add some great nutrients. Well, since it has been so abnormally warm out, we decided to start spring cleaning early.

The patio is always the first because it is where we do our resting and relaxing time. It took us 6 years to lay all the free brick (all we had to do was fetch it, clean it and place it)! We also didn’t follow normal patio ideas. We decided to go with the flow of the landscape instead of level it all off flat.

It turned out marvelous, however this year’s storms left us with an abundance of leaves and they were mashed down really well over everything.  Well, when spring cleaning hits, it’s time to find all the planting beds again. The whole front yard was still full of left-overs. The dill stalks, small bushes, and end-of-season flower left-overs all collect up the blown, mushy leaves. This made it hard to tell a plot from a brick.

The majority of the patio was easily picked up and swept. The area around the pond is a very different story. I got down on hand and knees (not easy to do after having both knees replaced – ouch) and worked my way slowly across the area. There are several smaller plots, as well as a couple of large ones.

So, it’s about 60 degrees, the sun is on me, I decided that sitting on the brick was easier than kneeling, and I was singing a song ( “If I had a million dollars” by the Barenaked Ladies – for those of you wondering) and working away. My method requires a small hand/whisk broom, gloves, a good pliers and my handy-dandy weed between the bricks tool (it’s like a razor or knife, but “L” shaped with a handle for easy manipulation). I was using my hand and broom to push back debris, then pile the excess to be shipped off to burn. Carefully checking each plot to make sure I left a heavy mulch layer, just because our nights still drop below freezing. Singing and working and lifted back a big pile of leaves and this is what I found:

DSC_0002 (1)

The tall spout is up about 2 inches! I was shocked! This normally does not happen until about the end of March (in a good year) or sometime in April – but here it is the middle of February!

I cleared out a bit in another nearby plot and discovered tulip sprouts – up about 1inch. What is going on?

The Boxelder bugs (or beetles) have been all over the south end of the house for the last 2 weeks. Not just one or two, but dozens:


From what I have seen and know of these bugs, the only thing they seem to invade are our Elms. They are supposed to prefer Maple and Ash, neither of which is on our property – AND – they are not supposed to be out yet! When they are out, they prefer the sunny south side of our home. Occasionally I will find one or two inside the house, but that is very rare. Maybe because we encourage our spiders – LOL!

funny spider

We have a new skylight in our kitchen and all forms of critters love it – especially the spiders “It’s dinner time, chomp, chomp, chomp!” And we do not have to cook for them – woo hoo!

I know it’s been a wicked and wild winter again, but this is getting down right freakie-deekie! Always makes me a bit worried about what summer will bring – snow? LOL

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I believe it is our job as humans to take care of the other creatures we share the planet with – yes, even spiders (yucky!).

brown spider pic

We try to keep at least one or 2 spiders in our home (as long as they stay up on the ceiling out of reach) to help control flies and other bothersome pests. We have Bull Snakes which help to keep the rodent population down (as long as I don’t confront one while weeding, I’m cool with it). We have free-range fowl that help to keep the grasshopper population at bay (just gotta watch the turkeys – they will steal your hot peppers, and the ducks will take up residence between the tomato plants and pluck the fruit at the peak of ripeness – jerks!).

We have learned a ton of natural gardening methods to deter all different kinds of critters. We would prefer to deter, then eliminate. However, once in a while, you get something that you just do not want anywhere on your property! For us, that is the Yellow Jacket Wasp!

yellow jacket wasp pic

I know it is our job as humans to tend to the creatures of the planet, but I have a real hard time when it comes to the Yellow Jacket. It is a mean monster that will sting for no reason, and do it over and over and over again. The poor Honey bee loses its guts if it stings you! I am pretty sure I wouldn’t want to sting anything if it meant having my insides pulled out – yucky and OUCH!

Please don’t confuse them with our wonderful Honey Bees:

honey bee pic

I am posting pics of both at a fairly close distance so you can learn the differences. We also love our Mason Bees

mason bee pic

I call them my Fuzzy Bees. They are about the same size as a black fly (another nasty pest), but they are all fuzzy looking here. I have heard that some are black; I have never seen a black one, just our creamy tan little cuties (yes, I love it when they rest on me – too fun!)

Then we also have what is called a Mud Wasp (also called Mud Dauber or Dirt Digger):

mud wasp

(Don’t let this pic fool you – they are only about ½ inch long when full grown, would rather walk and flick their wings they fly around after you.) Do NOT confuse them with the mean wasp family as they are not a baddy but a goodie. They usually travel alone and eat the baddies in your gardens. They like to hang around buildings collecting mud for their nests. Ours made a home between the bricks on the patio off the east porch steps. We also have a small crack in the steps when the house shifted, and she will fly from patio to porch and back. Never hurt any of us, have seen her attack a daddy long legs spider, and a pill bug. So she can stay!

In all fairness, I went to Wikipedia, which then led me to UC Davis Edu. This finally gave me the answer to my question – What are they good for? According to this article – little to nothing, which is what I thought. They are very predatory and will keep other pests away, however; I have seen them take out a Honey Bee hive (ticked me off!). So unless one of my readers can give me a good reason to keep them around, I will continue to eliminate them every chance I get!

I was weeding around a wagon of ours, it had some pretty tall grasses and some picker weeds – time for it all to go. I felt a burning sensation on the back of my hand (yep – no gloves, stupid me!) and when I pulled my hand up and flipped it over – 3 of the nasty monsters were going to town on my hand – grrr! I brushed them off and stomped on them, then went to the pump, got some cold water and made a mud pack. Slapped it on my hand which, by now, was about doubled in size and tight as a drum! Please note that I am not allergic to these buggers, or bees for that matter, but their sting is that bad!

So my takeaway today is “kill the hornet, kill the hornet, kill the hornet” (you have to sing that to the Bugs Bunny Opera episode – Elmer is a Viking, Bugs is Brunhilda – hee hee)Whats opera doc

(FYI – One of my all-time favorite Cartoons!)


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Time has finally caught up with us. Okay, maybe I should say the weather has finally caught up with us. Our first major frost is due tomorrow night, and I’m not ready – eeekkkk! The exterior garden is pretty much demolished – so no problem there. The decision now is do I want to keep the greenhouse tomatoes going through to next year or break out my Edward Scissorhands clippers and have at it?

My major concern is not devastating the bush, but how bad the bush will devastate me. The darn thing is from the nightshade family. Very poisonous prospect, and an oxymoron if you really think about it. How did anyone ever come to realize that a tomato was edible? I know that most of what we eat is from watching critters. If they eat it, must be ok – however- nothing will eat the tomato vine. The fruit (yep it’s a fruit) is, to me, outstanding! So many varieties of uses – ketchup, sauces, Pico, and best to me – raw!! We put them in tons of things from eggs to meats to noodles. When you combine several together you get an amazing flavor (that’s how we make our pasta sauce).

So what am I so worried about – the vines. Years past I was able to tear at them with minimal body covering (ok, clean it up, I’m talking shorts and a tank top then)…but not now. Now I need full body armor! Pants, socks, ankle high boots, long sleeve shirt or at least a long sleeve jacket, gloves and most important – a clean rag.

The rag came about when I found out that I could no longer deal with the treacherous monster without full body armor. I make the mistake of taking out the outside vines 2 years ago by simply hacking away at them. I knew what they were back then, but at that time they did not infest me. Well, on this fateful day it happened to be bright, sunny and on the warmer side. As I worked I began to perspire (women perspire – men sweat – what a crock but that’s for another day) and subconsciously wiping the wet from my face – using my hands which were not encased in gloves. I believed that gloves were for sissys that were afraid to get their hands dirty – also, not anymore!

The poison weeping from the vines as I hacked away at them was doing its dastardly revenge from the moment I touched them. It leaked all over my hands and arms, I lifted both to help remove the moister from my face and eyes and the damage was done! The killer tomatoes had gotten vengeance. They were stealthy – doing injury when I least expected it! This was a year, after all, just like the previous years so why should I do anything different? Ha, ha, ha, silly me! NOTHING ever stays the same!!

I did my dirty deed on the gardens. I took everything down for the winters’ rest, as it should be. I went to bed that evening feeling like a hero! I had accomplished every fall cleanup item on my “to-do list” in record time. I showered after a hard days’ work but it was already too late. The sneaky tomato was enforcing its revenge upon me without my knowing it.

I woke the next morning looking like a blow fish!

pic of blowfish

WWWHHHAAATTTT???? I was swollen from my eyes to my feet with the worst being on my face (of course!). I was awake, but my eyes were thin little slits to peek through. My sinuses were so plugged that I had to hang my mouth open to breathe a heavy breather on a nasty phone call. And the facial skin itself was so stretched from the attack that I could not see a single wrinkle (bonus!? Hee hee).   My fingers were so swollen I could not make a fist and a burning rash had broken out almost everywhere. The first think (yes think) I did was yell for help.

Well, help came but not before laughing hysterically for several minutes first! Very funny – not!!! My sister then reminded me about the nightshade family in the tomato. So that was the culprit. She continued to laugh while helping to rub aloe lotion on me, also reminding me of all the time I teased her about her “sensitive” skin (she breaks out in a rash at the drop of a hat). Now I was to learn exactly how she felt – in the most painful way!

The majority of the swelling went down after a couple of days, the rash took a bit longer. But I did learn a very valuable lesson. The tomato doesn’t care what your skin type is. It doesn’t care that you may have killed it in the past without feeing its agony. It only cares about the first moment you DO notice it. That moment when it can come out on your unsuspecting self and seek revenge!

So, now I know that I will attack the monster with full body armor, but I will display my kinder side. I will allow part of the plant to remain in the plot. I will cover it with extra protection and even add a small space heater so that the temperature will remain above freezing in its mini-tunnel. I will allow it to continue to provide us with fruit in a slower manner throughout the winter.

In turn, I believe, it will not decide to attack me. At least not until the next time I get stupid and try to clear it jungle style! It had better remember that revenge is sweet, especially served up in a pasta sauce!

Now, my older friends, you know where they got the idea for that wonderful “B” movie from back in the 70’s – Attack of the killer tomatoes. Enjoy!!  (oh, and of course don’t forget that great theme song )


 There are never really warnings when something like water resources are going to change. Oh you may see little things if you have the insight of a Native American Indian – but the average person today would not notice (ok, maybe a climatologist).

The eighties in Denver were rough economically. The nineties were flourishing and exciting. Then, at the turn of the century, all that changed. Any modern-day prophet that may have been trying to predict the future in regard to economy based on the past was blown right out of the water! The weather forecasters had the same problem.

The drought that started in 2000 (the year we bought the farm of course- August of 2000) was to last for our first 3 years on the farm. The news people all stated that it was the worst Colorado had seen in over 100 years…oh lucky us!! The first few years of the new millennium, were to be a time of major re-thinking in the way we have done and will do everything farm related! We had drawn up garden plots, planting thoughts, critter pens and the like. Well now, due to a major water shortage, we were faced with re-planning (is that a word?).

Looking back I think this was all a blessing. We spent 3 years in major drought and learned a ton-of-stuff just through our trial and error efforts! We learned the different ways to water and what worked best for our Colorado weather and soil. We learned how to do things “naturally” – meaning without the aid of chemicals. When you have farmers all around you that have to use huge machinery loaded with chemical (some organic but most not) compounds to save their crops, it very hard to go green. They would spray and by that afternoon we would be overloaded with their pests.

When you want good food that you can share with family and friends, having monster pests is not easy. We tried fencing off for rabbit control – ya, that didn’t work! The little buggers know just how to dig underneath them. So we found that wormwood was something they didn’t like – we now have it planted in a number of places – good-bye rabbits (or at least most of them)!

We also found that our house cat – Tigger – loved to catch baby bunnies – YUCK!! But it helped to control them better than the coyote’s did out here. He actually brought one back up to the house one day – and the cute little bugger was still alive? Being animal lovers (but realists – if an animal is hurting, you put it down!), we put it in a box, gave it some food and water, and waited till the next morning.

Well, we woke the next morning to an empty box? Where was the baby bunny? Tigger slept with me locked in my room for the night, so we know he had nothing to do with it. The bunny looked like death warmed over when we put it in the box, so we were sure it would be dead by morning – but he pulled a magic act and disappeared! We searched everywhere and no rabbit. To this date, never found that baby bunny (think that is where gremlins or angels stepped in).

Our first drought year also forced us to make some hard choices. We purchased cashmere goats and angora rabbits so that we could sell the fibers, not the animals.

Well, cashmere goats only get combed every spring, 1-time a year. Angora rabbits are very VERY high maintenance! They were constantly getting their hair matted and tangled so they needed to be cleaned and brushed almost everyday. When you both work off the farm to keep the finances going, then are trying to save a garden so that you will have food to put by, spending tons of time on critters that are a hassle is not feasible. The rabbits were the first to go.

We knew our goats would bring an income, although very meager, within 5 months. Since that is how often they birth, and it only takes a couple months after that to sell off the extras (usually males) that we couldn’t use-no worries, they are keepers. They at least provided enough extra income back then to assist with their feed and mineral supports.

The gardens seemed to be a constant struggle also. We found that when you have a drought, every weed in the territory will appear. The cacti went into hiding, but the goat-head stickers were in abundance! The bindweed also found was a thing that can get out of control in a heartbeat. After a lot of trial-and-error, we found out that our ducks and geese loved goat-head flowers. If you can get them into the area when they are in flower stage, they will eat them thus creating no stickers – yea! The bindweed took a little more trials (with a lot of errors) and tons of talking with locals and referring to our books (yep, we have a huge pile of all kinds of gardening books).

Turned out our best defense came from a natural method – vinegar! Of all things – vinegar- who would have thought? I know it was good for a great number of things, but when used straight, and extremely carefully, it will kill off just about any plant –including bindweed. The tricky part is you have to use a closed container (just a small one so that if you accidentally knock it over, you wont spill on something you want to keep – yes, I did that and killed off one of my best pepper plants) and a sponge. Semi-soak the sponge and wipe it on the bindweed leaves. Works perfect!

We found that it did not work on the goat-head weed though. Apparently it only works on the bigger leaf plants. We also use it to kill of the grass/weeds that pop up between our bricks in the patio – just don’t get it close to trees, flowers or bushes you want to keep.

The drought years taught us how to grow in long rows for minimal flooding purposes and in plots to limit the area of weeding. The one thing we didn’t learn until much later is what to do with the walkways between the plots and rows. We tried tilling – nope. Tried lying down weed barrier cloths – nope. Tried letting things grow up and then mowing them before they could produce flowers or get to long – nope. Nothing we did seemed to work. We even tried the newspaper plans. Ended up with newspapers and straw mulch flying all over our property and across the road.

Oh, did I mention we have almost non-stop winds out here? That is unless its about 100 degrees out, then we have no wind. We also have high altitude issues. Not like living in Denver or the Rockies height, but just enough to make things challenging. I couldn’t contain my raspberries in Denver, but can’t get them to grow out here? Found out that our heat is so intense (from the high altitude) that they need partial shade to grow.

Hmm, was never that way when we were kids in Wisconsin. We had about a 30×30 foot plot of them as kids, and loved to attack them in season! Our gardens now look like something out of a magazine. To see them from a distance looks beautiful! Nice clean plots with, what looks like, a colorful cement walkway. Surprise – its not cement! Cement for all of our garden space would not be very cost efficient.

Another one of our trial and errors was actually a happy “light bulb” moment. I use a piece of old carpet or rug to sit on while I weed (saves my butt from stickers). So, about 5 years after the drought it finally dawned on me – old carpet! We started it couple of years ago. Lay down a heavier duty weed barrier (not the least expensive stuff – feel it before you buy-you can tell it’s a heavier duty cloth), place your carpet sections over top then use garden stakes to hold it all down (we use the “U” shaped ones – also works best for hold connecting pieces together).

When the carpet, or a piece of it gets too worn out from the elements, simply cut that section off and throw it away. Then replace it with a new setup – works fantastic! Now the only weeds we have to contend with are in the plots and periodically on the edges! Saves a ton of time and effort and, I am thrilled to say, has found a way to repurpose old carpets.

My previous job of 10 years was with the local government housing authority office. Through that I made a lot of landlord connections. They were always complaining about having to rip up tenant damaged carpets on carpets that were not that old (if there is a bad tear or burn in the center of one – the whole thing usually comes out), then having to pay extra to have the trash people (city things) haul it off.

Well, I made a deal with a couple of them – if they would cut the carpet into 3-foot widths (or less) then I would take it off their hands for free! They love the idea and to this day I still get pieces nicely rolled up and left at our gate. There is nothing in the carpet that is toxic (or they couldn’t put it near children in apartments – think about it!), why let it bio-degrade in a landfill for years when we can get a second life out of it! By the time we are done with it, there is not much left to dissolve. Most of it is pretty well shredded when the weather, heat and our bodies have left their marks.

That was another thing we learned from the drought years – how to recycle, reuse, and/or repurpose almost everything. We are very proud of that fact. Think our parents would be also-if they were still alive.

Our parents were raised during the depression years, so saving everything for a possible later use became second nature to them-especially our mother. She carried that with her all through her life and I am very glad of that! Some nights when my sister Darcy and I are having our “in our cups” moment (a phrase picked up from our mothers sister Marlene – thanx Marlene! – oh, and it means having a few drinks at the end of a hard work week), we come up with the best re-purposed ideas! The only sad part it that our ideas take so long to appear. We almost always say, “I wish I would have thought of that one X years ago when we were working on…!”

Never fails to amaze me how “out-of-the-box” our thoughts get once we have time to relax and let our minds wander. And I love the moments when my mind wanders and I go with it, however I don’t get anything done here during those moments! So I believe the moral behind this is that no matter how bad things seem to be, there is always a reason for everything – this is my life motto now, and I really do believe it! Not a bad thing seems to go by that I don’t (sooner or later) see that there was a reason for it. Usually a good life lesson!