Fall chores and feline pheromones signal changes on farm

November 21, 2010 

There's a fading bouquet of dahlia flowers sitting on the living room table at Horsefeathers Farm, right next to a hurricane lantern that was pressed into unexpected duty when the power went out Monday night.

Sitting in my truck Friday were a sack of garlic bulbs that I need to get in the ground soon if I want to harvest garlic next summer, and two thermal faucet insulators to protect the outdoor faucets at the farm from freezing weather.

The pair of contrasting images are clear reminders that fall garden chores and delights are quickly coming to an end, supplanted by the tasks associated with protecting the home from Old Man Winter and preparing for emergencies.

Dahlia plants still producing flowers in mid-November is unheard of here in East Olympia. Usually, the first time the thermometer drops below freezing, the plants die overnight. The freezing weather predicted for this weekend should spell their demise.

On the other hand, a November windstorm capable of knocking out the electricity is nothing new. Knowing that, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit how poorly prepared I was for the first power outage of the season.

After years of covering natural disasters, including windstorms, floods and earthquakes, I know full well that families and businesses should keep on hand the basic emergency provisions needed to fend for themselves without outside help for at least 72 hours.

So why were the water jugs empty when the house was pitched into darkness last week? Why was the portable radio devoid of batteries, leaving us isolated from the outside world? Why didn’t we know exactly where the flashlights were stored?

I wish I had good excuses, but I don’t. Dare say, I wasn’t the only one caught ill-prepared.

I did get the roof and gutters cleaned last weekend, the corn stalks plowed under, the potatoes harvested, and the lawn raked and mowed before the stormy, cold weather hit, so I guess I won’t beat myself up too bad.

CAT BLENDING

Probably the most entertaining thing happening around the farm is watching my two cats get used to sharing the house with the two cats that arrived in October with my new housemate.

Neither of us ever dreamed of living in a house with four cats. We both admit it’s a bit too much, but neither she nor I was willing to part with any of our feline companions. Books, clothes, furniture, coffee mugs and other household items were fairly easy to pare down in the household merger, but not the cats.

To ease the transition for all involved – and to reduce the risk of the cats spraying urine around the house, fighting or clawing at the walls – we resorted to pheromone dispensers.

Resembling an air freshener, the diffusers emit a synthetic version of a facial pheromone that cats leave behind when they rub their cheeks on people or furniture. The pheromone signals that the territory is safe and non-threatening.

Admittedly, I’d never heard of such a thing, but it turns out more than a million cat households have turned to pheromone products in the United States in the past year alone, according to a Nov. 15 article in Time magazine.

We also kept the two newly arrived cats holed up in the basement family room for over a month, slowly letting them out to explore and interact with my cats.

We must have done something right. The cats are suspicious of one another, but tolerant, too. There have been no cat fights or incidents of territorial marking. Now it’s just a matter of getting used to seeing cats hanging out all over the house.

Something else that’s been hard to get used to is a barn and horse pasture unoccupied by a horse. At the same time, I don’t miss cleaning the stall, hauling hay and other tasks associated with horse ownership that disappeared this summer. I especially don’t miss having a horse in the winter, when it’s dark in the morning and dark when you get home from work.

In the past few days, I’ve had the best of both worlds – the pleasure of a horse’s presence without the chores. Bueno, my neighbor’s 30-year-old horse, is paying us a visit while some minor repairs are completed on the barn next door.

For the first few days, an agitated Bueno paced the fence line on his weary old legs instead of settling in comfortably to take advantage of my lush green pasture. But in recent days, he’s calmed down and spent more time grazing, which is a welcome sight.

We’ll harvest some Brussels sprouts to go with the home-grown rosemary, garlic, squash and potatoes that we’re contributing to a small Thanksgiving dinner.

It’s a potluck affair with just a small portion of the family, including my father, who turned 90 last week.

Cats included, we’re easing into the holidays and winter at Horsefeathers Farm.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

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