Summer Evening Ramble.

Gardening is a tricky hobby. This is my sixth year in the business of vegetable gardening. It almost feels like the word “hobby” is an understatement. Gardening is a part of my life, and has been for years. I spend winters reading, designing, preparing, and ordering seeds. Spring is a mad rush to start seedlings indoors, amend my soil, direct sow cold crops, and wait impatiently. Summer is supposed to be when all of that pays off. I water and water and water, I weed and weed and weed. And I wait, and wait, and wait.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from six years of tending to a tiny garden, it’s that it is quite impossible to supply enough for my family of four. We can maybe have a salad once a week from my lettuce. And my herbs are always available for seasoning. But most of it is a waiting game. I probably have around ten tomato plants, all of them with plentiful flowers. In the spring I had several rows of beets and carrots. Now I have one of each, because the devil in the form of a rabbit has been helping himself to the buffet that is my vegetable garden.

It’s a lot of frustration, but I can’t possibly expect anything more. I can hardly compare my yields to the growers at the farmer’s market- they have acres and acres, they use fertilizer and pesticides. I have only 64 square feet of vegetable growing space, and my go-to amendment is compost! But every year I do it again, because I love it, because it is a part of my life. I love the excitement and promise of a new spring, I love the hot summer afternoons of hauling watering cans. I love serving my family a bowl of delicious salad from lettuce I grew myself, even if it is only an occasional salad.

This summer I’m taking a course at my local community college. I’m still in high school, but my school doesn’t have anything remotely resembling an agriculture program. This class is three times a week, and lasts for three and a half hours. My friends wince when I tell them this- but they don’t get it. Every single minute of those three and a half hours is useful and interesting. I’m learning about conventional versus sustainable, I’m learning about crop rotation and sub tillage, cover crops and fertilizer. I’m learning things I never even dreamed of learning until college, and the best part is that the course is completely free (thanks Obama!).

I am sitting right now, overlooking my backyard. You could call it a back garden, since the summer flowers are so abundant. Colorful and blooming coreopsis, mandevilla, sedum, day lily, black-eyed susan, calibrachoa, and hibiscus line the stone walls. This scene is my favorite part about summer. It reminds me of cookouts, family, warmth, and life.

As I type away at my laptop, Boris the Pug attempts to wolf down the crushed walnuts he finds underneath the butterfly bush. I attempt to catch him and he runs behind the tall ornamental grass. I can see his glittering, mischievous eyes from behind the fronds even now. He unabashedly crunches on what must be a particularly satisfying shell, and then drops it on the bark mulch to find more.

It feels like the clouds are holding their breath. They completely coat the sky in milky white, with purple undertones in places. They seem heavy with moisture, and have brought a cool breeze all afternoon. On the radar an angry red splotch is racing in my direction, and should be here within the hour.

 

 

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A Year in Review

Its 2016, and now seems as good a time as any to reflect and review this past year.

January A year ago today we brought Mary to the vet for her “cold”, and she got dosed with antibiotics in the eyes and nose for a week. When that didn’t stop her constant sneezing and coughing, we picked up some Baytril pills and shoved them down her throat for another harrowing week. I paid for all of it, and scheduled the appointments (the first time I felt like a real, responsible chicken mama).

With a lot of help from my mother, we managed to dose Mary with both the eye/nose drops, and the Baytril pills until she was completely healed and returned to the flock. And that’s when I noticed Edith’s comb, which was lightly frostbitten. That night I began applying Vaseline to his head, and continued to do so until spring to insulate it from the cold.

His comb quickly went from “mild” to worse, as you can see in the pictures.

At the end of the month I learned that my coop cleaning regimen was flawed, and that the waterer (which I kept inside on the pine shavings) was making the shavings damp and creating a humid, disease-breeding environment. Though I couldn’t move the waterer outside because of the heater set-up, I did a deep clean of the coop.

February Edith’s frostbite got worse and worse as winter deepened in the Northeast. Despite the application of Blu-Kote (a blue stain/antiseptic that prevents pecking) my hens began pecking at Edith’s comb. The appearance of blood only encouraged the hens, and blood was splattered on the coop walls, and on his own feathers. Mabel laid her first egg, a lovely white color.

March I am struck with “chick fever”, where all I think about is more fuzzy chicken babies gracing my brooder. I begin to contemplate Edith and his place in my coop when I see him constantly mating with the three girls. Mabel and Cora begin to lose their feathers on their backs, and Mary lays an egg.

I plant some lettuce, flower, and pepper seedlings, which never really sprout (much to my frustration).

My eagerness for spring is dampened by the continuous snow and cold weather, and I despair that spring will never come to New England. Edith’s comb finally falls off, leaving a small, neat little wedge in its place.

I ordered, and mended, a chicken saddle for Cora, and deep cleaned the coop (again). I noticed two scabbed over gashes in Mabel’s side (presumably from Edith’s mating) and snatched her from the roost. After much squawking, and lots of flying feathers, I covered her wounds with Neosporin and Blue-Kote, and returned her to her peeps.

April I continue my scheming for more poultry, treat Scaly Leg Mite in Mary by soaking her feet and covering them in Vaseline (which smothers them), and become ecstatic at the sight of new life in the garden. My tomato seedlings sprout (nearly all of them), and I bask in the warmth of spring.

June I had a bit of a panic about the health of my chickens. I was worried about Edith, who had a bald patch on his head (I suspected mites), and Cora’s messy bottom, Mary’s supposed Scaly Leg Mites. Finally I posted about it, and you (my readers) told me to calm down and gave me reasonable solutions and explanations. Thank you for that! With the start of summer, I began my fruitless job search.

July With the start of July I finally realized that Edith was not a good fit for me and the girls. In a heartbreaking matter of days, amidst preparations for my trip overseas, I posted an ad for him on CraigsList and got multiple responses. We (my father and I) selected a “no-nonsense” New Hampshire farmer with a free range flock of about twenty hens. And off Edith went, an animal I raised from a baby. I disappear from the blog for three weeks in which I had one of the best experiences in my life.

August I return from an amazing trip and review it in great detail. I take a plane from Boston to London, where I spend three days exploring the city with my aunt and uncle. We then took a smaller plan from Luton to Inverness, and then drove up to a tiny coastal town called Thurso. There I stayed for the rest of the month, seeing the gorgeous Scotland scenery, meeting kind people, and relaxing in my aunt and uncle’s lovely home. I learned so much about myself, and can’t wait to go back when I get older.

September I reflect on how I got to where I am today

October I find worms in my chickens droppings- ick! I quickly treat it with Wazine and some pumpkin, and see immediate improvement

November I prepare for winter, both mentally and physically, despite the continuing mild weather.

This year has had its ups and downs, each forcing me to grow and learn. In just a little more than one year I will be out of high school, and I don’t think anything could prepare me to face the world better than my chickens have. I can’t wait to see what this new year will bring.

A year in review

A Walk Through the Garden

A walk through the garden shows me that spring is finally here. After this long, harsh, awful winter, I could not be more excited! I have to look carefully at the soil to see the newly forming life, and it is beautiful.

This is the beginning of a large spearmint plant- small shoots are emerging randomly throughout the herb garden.

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These green shoots are the rebirth of my lovely chive plant, which has been gracing my garden since I started a few years ago. Purple flowers will begin forming soon, and the stalks will grow extremely tall.

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Do you see the red growth underneath the old stems? That is my echinacea plant. It produces beautiful magenta cone-shaped flowers in the late summer. Not only is it ornamental, it is also said to boost your immune system. Apparently when the flowers are steeped in hot water for around thirty minutes, it is an effective precaution against colds. I’m not sure if that has any truth to it, but it does taste alright when steeped with mint and honey!
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This is lemon thyme- a wonderfully fragrant and tasty herb. I purchased the original plant from the farmer’s market, and it has been returning every year since, with more growth each time!
Photo Apr 18, 6 34 29 PMThe chicken manure certainly gave my garden soil a boost! I mixed some into the dirt last fall, and covered it with a layer of straw over the winter. I uncovered it yesterday, and found a nice layer of compost.

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In addition to the outdoor growth, the tomato seeds I started last week have sprouted! I had almost given up hope, until I looked under the thin layer of “germination paper” to find these lovely little seedlings. They are my last chance at tomatoes this year, since I didn’t plan ahead, and as a result am no longer in possession of seeds. I put them under a fluorescent light in the basement, with a heating pad underneath. With some luck, water, and warmth hopefully they will thrive.
post 2Enough about plants- It’s time for a chicken update. I am led to believe that Mary has yet another health problem. Scaly leg mites…

These little fellows burrow into a chickens’ leg scales, causing them to rise, as seen below on Mary’s toes. Apparently it is rather painful, and can cause deformity if not treated in an appropriate manner.  The only way to get rid of these mites is by smothering them. And since they are spread through contact, and Mary lives with three other chickens, I’ll have to treat each one. These buggers have to go, so here is the plan.

  1. Dip their feet in warm, soapy water, while gently massaging their feet with an old toothbrush
  2. Dry off their feet with a soft towel by gently dabbing
  3. Dip their feet in vegetable oil for tenish seconds
  4. Dab their feet dry again
  5. Cover their feet with Vaseline
  6. Reapply Vaseline several times per week until healed
  7. Completely clean out coop again 😦

Its going to be gross, and very messy. But it has to be done! I just hope the people on BYC (backyard chickens.com) actually know what they are talking about. I don’t want to go through all this trouble for no reason

 Photo Apr 17, 6 36 28 PM        Lately I’ve been letting the chickens out for twenty minutes before their bedtime. I open up the door and stand by with a container of scratch in case they wander farther away than I’d like. Mabel always lurks on the perimeter, careful to stay away from me, while Mary is right by my side. Cora follows Edith everywhere he goes, which is usually near me. I always make them go inside before it gets too dark, which is quite a production.

Now that they know of the world outside their run, all they want to do is free range. If I open the door to walk in, they will rush at me in an effort to escape. Because of this, my father has set up a moveable wire fence around their run. This will give them some extra room, as I am not always able to let them roam. There are far too many hawks and dogs for that!

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It is quite a dreary day out here, which marks a discouraging start to my spring vacation. My birthday is coming up- it takes place on Earth Day, which is fitting considering my attitude towards the environment. My parents have been pestering me over what I want for presents, and I have been at a loss. I told them that nothing could ever beat last year’s gift of five baby chicks, and the adventures that have followed.

I smiled at them, and said “unless you plan on getting me more…?” to which they responded with a firm “No”. Oh well, at least I tried 🙂

Spring Is Here (Theoretically)

The little red coop is illuminated in the setting sun

The little red coop is illuminated in the setting sun

Spring is here, according to the calendar. The snow falling from the sky seems a little contradictory. Frankly, I’ve just given up. I have accepted the fact that warm weather is never going to happen again, and that I should just get used to the winter jackets and sweatpants.

The lazy chickens have retired early...I peeked my head in and found this...

This New England weather has gotten me so confused. It rises into the 40s, and all of a sudden I’m walking around outside with just a t-shirt shirt and jeans on. But then it starts snowing the next day, and it is back to the multiple layers of coats, sweaters, and socks. I just know that the tulips, crocuses, and daffodils are trying to arise from the dirt. If only there wasn’t a foot of snow barring their path to the sun.

The other day I strolled outside to my chicken coop, and did a double take as Edith stepped out into the run. His comb had fallen off, leaving a strange looking (for lack of a better word) nub… I started laughing immediately, but halted when he glared at me, as if to suggest that it was my fault. I retreated back into the warmth after doing the daily chicken chores, feeling slightly bad that his once majestic comb has been diminished so completely.

The other issue I have been facing is eggs. I have too many!  I’ve resorted to handing them out by the half-dozen to neighbors, out of complete desperation for more fridge space. I really want to sell them, but I’m not sure if I need a license for that, and since my chicken operation is supposed to be “covert” (I’m pretending that my neighbors can’t actually hear Edith serenading them in the mornings) I don’t want to draw extra attention to it. I’ll have to do some more research. Farm stands are a really popular thing in my town- people just set up a table on the side of the road with a box for money and piles of fruit vegetables. Asparagus and strawberries decorate these stands in the spring time, and then lots of corn and tomatoes in the summer. Pretty much every turn you take leads you to another one. Why not have one of my own?

The Chickens Getting Ready for Bed

Photo Mar 18, 6 40 58 PMThey were slightly offended by my intrusion A curious angle of chickens roosting...

Seedlings

I started some seedlings earlier this week! These past few years I have utterly and completely failed at getting my little plants to thrive. I’ve had an especially frustrating time with the heirloom peppers I’ve tried over the years. On Monday I filled a flat with four Asters, four peppers, and eight lettuce plants. Or maybe it was eight pepper plants and four lettuce plants… perhaps this is why I’ve been failing at this…

But not to fear! I have a chart with the information somewhere around here. I followed the directions carefully, filling up the bottom tray with warm water, soaking  the black, absorbent mat that goes underneath the flat itself in more warm water, expanded the little soil pellets, sowed the tiny seeds, and covered it all with a thin “germination sheet”. Then I quickly cleaned up the layer of dirt on the kitchen counter before my family laid their horrified eyes on it. They just don’t get it sometimes 🙂

I probably could have easily done all this without the silly Burpee seed kit, but took advantage of it as it was left over from last year. Hopefully they sprout.

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If anyone asks, those crumbs are brownies…

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And if they don’t, I shall try again. After all, I’ve got to have something to distract me from the idea of chicks that I can’t have, and my rooster troubles.

Uncertainty

Spring showed itself today in the form of a warm, breezy afternoon. With the new season, comes the longing for chicks. I keep stealing glances at the Tractor Supply, and searching baby chick pictures on Google. Its an addiction. No, really- there is something called “chicken math” which is basically a giant excuse chicken owners use to get more chickens. For instance, if I had 20 chickens, but three of them were roosters and five were no longer laying eggs I would reason that instead of 20 chickens, I had 12, because roosters and old hens don’t count. So really, I need 8 more hens.

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I find that this way of thinking is extremely tempting as pictures of fuzzy chicks fill the screen. And I think. What kinds would I get? If I could of course… I go onto hatchery websites and fill up my online “cart” with different breeds, pretending that I am chick shopping. Then comes the scheming… If I just got three more, and expanded the coop slightly then I could…

You get the point. You also probably think I’m crazy.

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But something besides chicks eats at the back of my mind. Mr. Edith has been mating with all three hens for the past few weeks. As you know, he is a large beast. I observed (its not as creepy as it sounds) him mating with Mary, who is quite a big hen, and he completely pinned her to the ground. A gust of air seemed to whoosh out of her, followed by horrified squawking. Mabel, a very small girl, has a bare patch on her back, exposed to the air. So does Cora. And his spurs are developing right before my eyes.

Edith is becoming a real rooster. Not the cuddly buddy he was earlier this year, though he still lets me pick him up and pet him. And he is doing some damage to my hens. Or, his hens, rather. I know he would die for them, he is gentle with humans, and even does the mating dance for Cora. But I also know that he would be better off with more hens to mate with- more than three.

Photo Mar 11, 5 54 54 PM Photo Mar 11, 5 54 55 PM

With these thoughts in mind, I feel immediately guilty. How am I supposed to tell if this is just greedy me trying to make room for more chickens, if this is cruel me getting rid of an animal for doing its purpose, or if this is practical me looking out for the safety of my hens. My mind is certainly troubled. The very last thing I want is for him to end up being processed and butchered. He is such a fantastic animal! And he is so very good to me and his girls. Mr. Edith has even grown on my parents, and his crowing is music that soothes my soul. Any advice from my fellow chicken owners?

Once again, I am at a loss on what to do.

On the bright side- I’m now getting three eggs a day! Mary, the new egg layer, produces a gorgeous light brown-shelled egg

 

Spring is Here

Spring is here. It has to be, right? There is a smell outside that just seems to say that spring is on its way, and the sun seems warmer than usual. When I venture outdoors I can hear the water streaming off the roof, and I see the mud next to the driveway. Sure, the puddles freeze over at night, but it’s certainly progress.

Edith has been in and out of the basement. I leave him in the little dog crate only when it gets below five degrees- but I don’t think there is anything left to lose on his comb! It has cleared up now, so I can see the line where the dead comb meets the healthy part. He won’t be as handsome when it falls off, but I think it will be okay. I hope so anyways.

One thing I do have to look forward to, however, is summer vacation. I might have the opportunity to travel to Scotland this summer, which is extremely exciting for a girl who has barely left her town, let alone her country! If I can raise the money, I’d ride a plane over to London, meet some family at the airport and stay there for a few days. Then we would make our way to Inverness, and eventually north to the town where my aunt and uncle live. After three or four weeks, I would make my way back home to my family and chickens. Words can’t describe how excited I am to live in a whole different setting, with a different culture and history. I just got my passport application forms today. Next step is to raise a large amount of money by myself, buy some plane tickets, and wait…

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