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.

 

 

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

Driving Test Worries

As you might have assumed, I found no duckling orders tucked away in stockings, nor underneath the Christmas tree. I did have a lovely Christmas Eve and Christmas surrounded by family and thoughtful gifts, and I hope your holidays (whatever they may be) were just as lovely.

My winter break is drawing to a close, but I am still clinging to the lazy days by the pellet stove, wrapped in my shawl and buried in a book. I’m not ready to give those up quite yet. Unfortunately, my days have an ugly aspect of anxiety to them- my “Driver’s Test” in in just one week, and I do not feel prepared at all. I have had my “Learner’s Permit” since late May, but my parents didn’t actually take me out driving until Fall (much to my frustration). They have been through it once with my sister, where they forced her to drive everywhere, but when I ask to drive they show such discouraging reluctance.

Practice makes perfect. No practice… let’s just say it’s pretty scary to be on the road with me. When I drive, my knuckles are white from gripping the steering wheel so hard, my breathing gets fast, and my mind floats to all the accidents that could happen. I am, quite simply, terrified. And don’t even get me started on parallel parking. It’s a miracle that I haven’t totaled any other vehicles yet.

Naturally, I’m not expecting to pass my Driving Test. Yes, I’ve had at least twelve hours of “behind-the-wheel” instruction, six hours of “observation”, and forty hours of classroom instruction on the rules of the road, but none of those things have even remotely eased the terror that I face when I think of the test. If I don’t pass, it’s not the end of the world for me. I’ll have to rely on my parents for another month, that’s all. No, it’s the ridicule that I’ll face at school that bothers me. To be blunt, I’m afraid of being judged by my peers for failing at something that comes easy to them.

I had planned to be silent about when I was taking the test, an obvious solution. Except we all went to the same driving school, and the driving test is always the second Saturday of every month. So it’s pretty easy to tell when I’m taking it, since I finished my “driving times” in early December.

I know I should be grateful for the opportunity to drive, and that this is an obvious “first-world problem”. But the anxiety that comes with it feels so debilitating at times. It is a constant pressure on my chest and gut, only made worse by the Seasonal Affective Disorder that accompanies winter.

I didn’t really plan to write about this, my fingers just went to those keys. What I was really going to tell you is that my Three Little Hens are doing great so far this winter. We had our first snow two days ago, and they were mildly annoyed at not being allowed out into the yard. Hopefully it will thaw a bit today so I can scrape the ice out of their larger run.

When I feel anxious, I always seek the comfort of nature. Nothing seems as worrisome among the trees and songbirds. Not to mention I’ve been reading an inspiring book called Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, a true story of a 67 year old woman who hiked the entire Appalachian Trail (all 2,168 miles of it). It is the kind of story that makes me want to take a walk in the woods.

When I set out yesterday, I just had my hiking books and a jacket. I walked up to a nearby trail, traversed the icy parking lot, and landed on…more ice. I saw two branches leaning against a tree trunk, so I reached over and grabbed them, and unwisely proceeded into the mountainous iceskating rink. Using the branches as ski poles, and the heels of my shoes as ice picks, I continued onward up the slope, until the slipping got a little too frightening and I sat down to think. Deer tracks wandered down into the woods, perfectly preserved in the ice. Birds resumed their singing. It was serene. Unwilling, however, to continue my precarious trek I returned to the road and walked home, my bottom completely soaked but my mind finally quieted.

Happy New Years, everyone!

No Shopping or Wrapping Required

My mother has requested, as she has every year, a list of gift ideas for Christmas. Every year I am lucky enough to wake up to the smell of homemade cinnamon buns, music, and a slew of neatly wrapped gifts beneath a lit up tree. A time when my family stops thinking about work and comes together in peace to celebrate. I am so grateful for our chance to do just that, which too many other families are unable to do.

This year, my mother is in a flurry of Christmas shopping stress, as she has no idea what my sister and I want underneath the tree. Yesterday I finally responded to her request for a Christmas-List.

“No shopping or wrapping needed- also applicable to birthdays”

Murray

Unfortunately, she didn’t share my enthusiasm 🙂

For those of you that do not know, a “Cayuga” is a duck breed. A lovely black, iridescent duck breed!

I know, I suppose I am pushing my luck here. In all honesty, I am half teasing her, but also very serious. There is no doubt that chickens have changed my life (for the better, of course) and I only want to continue my adventures with them. In the next few years, my girls’ egg production will slow down. It is a sad fact of the modern chicken that they produce eggs very efficiently for their first year or two of life, and then drop off to nearly nothing (at this point, most farms will slaughter the chicken). Obviously I will not be doing any slaughtering- my chickens are more than just producers, they are pets.

My mother’s main issue is my impending departure for college. Understandably, she doesn’t want to be saddled with a full-scale poultry operation while I’m gone for most of the year. However, I live in an area famous for its many excellent colleges. I am strongly considering a University in which I could live at home and attend class that is just ten minutes away. I don’t think she understands that having three chickens is very similar to having five, as they’re all fed, let out, etc… at the same time. How else would people be able to keep hundreds in a safe and clean way?

But I’m not asking for hundreds, I am asking for two or three ducks. I have all the materials, all of the knowledge, and all of the enthusiasm. What’s more, I wouldn’t even consider having them shipped until spring, April at the earliest. So she has lots of time to mentally prepare herself.

If we decided (which I very much hope we do not) to give my chickens away when/if I leave, having ducks would make my flock a little bit more attractive. Who doesn’t love the sight of ducks waddling down the ramp in the morning, followed by a trio of happy chickens?

I rest my case. I hope I don’t sound selfish or greedy, just eager and excited. Maybe my nearly two years of meticulous love and care towards my chickens will help convince them to drop the shopping cart and listen to my real wish.

 Either way I win, as I am the luckiest girl in the world in my three little hens.

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Preparing for the Winter

First off, I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving! Even if you aren’t from the US, I hope that you have an abundance of things to be thankful for. I am certainly thankful for you, my readers!

Things have been quiet in the coop, and I fear I am suffering from a bad case of Writer’s Block. For those reasons, I have not written in a month. Mary has finished her molt, as you can see from the gallery below. Her feathers are new once again: her feet and bottom a cream color, the rest of her body covered in a caramel hue, with black lacing around her neck, tail, and on her wing tips. Cora is just about finished- she laid an egg for the first time in a month yesterday, which is a good sign! Her feathers are almost all a burgundy color, except for the black tip of her tail. Poor Mabel, however, is looking very rough. There are patches of bare skin starting at her throat, and while the spot on her back is completely covered, she spends her afternoons huddled from the winds below the coop.

It was around a year ago today that a huge blizzard hit my town, and I had to transfer the three girls and Mr. Edith to the big coop in the snowy night! Its crazy to think that it is in the 50s today, and drizzling. I’m certainly not complaining… I’m afraid I’m looking at this coming winter with dread. I won’t be forgetting the “cold” Mary suffered from, nor finding poor Edith with his comb completely black and feathers covered in blood. Though I do think I am far better prepared, with a whole year’s experience by my side.

To prepare, I’d like to do one big coop cleaning before it gets too cold to wash the floors. I’ll wipe down all the surfaces with white vinegar, scrub the waterer and feeders, and scatter diatomaceous earth on the floor and run. On top of this, I’ll lay down a thick layer of pine shavings to keep them warmer. I’m considering spreading some sort of material on the run- right now it’s simply dirt and sand, but I think a bit of straw or maybe even leaves would keep their feet from freezing.

Despite the hardships that come from a winter with the chickens, I’m so glad I have them to keep me busy. Before they entered my life, I found it difficult to sit inside all winter without the benefits of my vegetable garden. Until then though, I will enjoy the mild weather, the still green grass, and the evening free-range sessions.

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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A Second of Spring

My February vacation has finally come to a close, though it wasn’t much of a vacation. I replaced my days of tedious high school with days of tedious Driver’s Ed. The instructor related many horror stories of car crashes and deaths from not wearing seat belts. Now the thought of driving makes me a bit nervous. Its scary to be responsible for the lives of your passengers, and the other people on the road.

The relentless cold has finally loosened its grip here. The sun is out and shining, the sky is a shade of blue that reminds me of spring. Sunlight reflects off of the fresh coating of snow and illuminates the house… and all I can think of is how much I hate winter. An intense “I NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE” feeling has infiltrated my thoughts. When is it going to stop?

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Gender roles, cannibalism and a new egg

This morning I woke up with my eyes watering and feeling completely congested. Outside it was -10 degrees Fahrenheit, and I decided that today was not a good day for dealing with high school. So here I lie on the couch, my nose causing many tissues to be used, hoping that this nasty sickness will go away as  soon as possible. In my boredom I picked up a Gardener’s Supply Company catalog and flipped through the glossy pages of seedlings and perfect tomato plants. A utopia of successful gardens.

I looked outside at the large amount of snow and groaned at the groundhog’s poor choice to extend winter.

 

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As I looked through the catalog, I couldn’t help but recall the lesson we learned in Sociology class a few weeks ago about gender roles in the media. Every single picture in the catalog involving actual gardening depicted a middle aged woman smiling joyfully during the summer afternoon (at times hand in hand with a child). All of the pictures of men either involved building the garden beds, or washing cars… interesting.

As you well know if you’ve been keeping up with the blog, I’ve been having a rough time with the chickens. Today is no exception. For the past week I’ve noticed the hens pecking at Edith’s comb. Blood is splattered all over the coop walls from him shaking his head, and one night I saw it was dripping down his neck feathers. Yes, thats right, my chickens are now cannibals.

So, how to stop this behavior? Well I discovered that the bag balm I’ve been smothering on Edith every night to prevent frostbite has been hindering the affect of the Blu-Kote (the blue stain/antifungal formula that is used to prevent pecking). The Blu-Kote was just coming off, and the hens then saw the blood underneath and continued pecking. Because I had a night above freezing, I didn’t apply bag balm. Instead, I carefully dabbed the comb with Blu-Kote, and let it sit over night. Since then it has stayed on- problem solved. For now.

I feel bad for them, because all they have to do during the day is walk around a small dirt run. To enhance their time I’ve been scattering their food on the ground so they have to hunt for it. I’ve also dropped a few leaves of kale every once in a while, as well as cracked corn (chicken scratch) to keep them warm. Of course, I have to go easy on the treats, because fat chickens have multiple health issues.

Another recent issue is the reappearance of excrement on Cora’s vent feathers. I have to get to the bottom of this issue (no pun intended), and figure out why the feces keep building up in her feathers. Its quite a hassle to remove the mess, as it involves warm water, gross hands, and a chicken in the basement.

Finally, I have one more announcement. Two days ago, I strolled into the coop and opened the nest box looking for Cora’s usual brown egg… and found…

THIS

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MABEL LAID AN EGG! And its white!!