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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The Egg Midwife

Well everyone, I am here to break the four month silence! I am not exactly sure why I chose today, of all days, to write again. Though I have an inkling that it has something to do with the fifteen page paper I’m supposed to write for tomorrow. I should probably start that soon.

The chicken world has been relatively stable. There is a resident fox family living in my neighbor’s yard, so I have to confine them to their smaller, secure, run when I leave the house. I feel awful doing it, but I’d feel even more awful if I walked into the coop one day and didn’t find chickens- only feathers. This past Thursday I had to play midwife to my hen, Mary. I walked into their run that evening and saw her sort of hunched over and slowly milling about. I wasn’t sure what was up, so I picked her up and gave her a check over.

Feet? fine. Eyes? no bubbles or foam. Under her wings? no mites. Ears? no infection. Nose? dry. Vent? large bump as if it were turning inside out.

Hens are tricky. If they don’t get enough calcium, or they have some other underlying issue, their egg can get stuck inside of them (this is called being “egg bound”). When they lay eggs, sometimes the vent does not go back to its rightful place, and turns almost partially inside out. This can lead to bigger problems, like shock or infection. And so I ran inside, readied a crate for her, and brought her in, just in case that was what was going on.

I went downstairs to check on her. When I opened the crate door, she stepped out onto my arm. I held still while she perched on my wrist, soothingly petting her feathers. Then she started making a loud groaning noise, visibly straining. Then I heard a plop on the pine shavings. I leaned over to look, and there was an egg.

Did I just catch her in the middle of laying an egg and make a big fuss for nothing? Possibly. But I’ve never seen my chickens look that lethargic during the egg laying process. And when chickens want to lay, they seek out a cozy, dark corner- they don’t hobble around outside. I think she might have just been having a hard time laying that day. Regardless, I made sure I relocated the oyster shells (a calcium supplement all hens need) to a more accessible spot in the coop.

In other news, I got a job! I’m pretty sure its seasonal, meaning I’ll only be working until the end of spring. What exactly am I doing, you ask? Hanging out with plants! That’s right, I’m working at my local garden center. I’ve worked three days so far, and let me tell you that hanging out with plants is a lot of work. My job is to water, and restock the annual flowers and vegetables. The people who never put the plants back in the right spot actually make my job exist. I am constantly rearranging the little six-packs of plants so that they live where they are supposed to. And then I bring everything up to the front so that it looks nice. After this, I make about five trips to the greenhouse to restock- the hardest part is remembering which varieties I need to replenish. Then repeat. Then repeat. For about eight hours. All of this is interspersed with customer questions that I cannot answer (yet!). It can be a tad monotonous, but the amount of information I am learning about plants is amazing. I am slowly recognizing different flower varieties, which I’ve never been good at; dianthus, dahlias, zinnias, calendulas, marigolds, monarda (bee balm), portulaca, snap dragon, lisianthus, gazania, pansies, and petunias, to name a few.  I find that each time I work I am more able to answer questions. It’s quite exciting!

 

 

Short Term Comfort

Its funny how much I have to say about these birds- with other farm/garden blogs, chickens seem to take a back seat. Well, I suppose if I was lucky enough to have a herd of goats, this blog would have a different name… Anyways, part of me can’t help but regret the level of care I have for these animals. Perhaps if I was detached, I would have processed my rooster in the summer time like a true farmer would. Perhaps I wouldn’t have cried so much when I thought Mary was going to die from that respiratory illness. I know one thing for sure. If I’m ever fortunate enough to have a real farm of my own, I’ll need to go about this animal husbandry thing a lot differently.

However, I’m glad that I have gotten to know these little critters. Mary, who loves being pet and held; Cora, who hates Mary and lays the best eggs; Mabel, who is skittish but lovable and so so soft. And Edith- a humongous, grouchy, but sweet rooster…

…who happens to be inhabiting my basement right now.

Why, you ask? Yesterday I strolled into the chicken coop to close the doors and apply bag balm to Edith’s comb. When I shined the flashlight on his head, it was covered in blood. I’m not exaggerating. His entire neck was bright red, and I could see it gushing from the tips of his waddles. I took a deep breath and walked back inside my home, and informed my parents that Edith would be living in the basement for the night.

They are very understanding people…

I brought him into the warmth of my basement and placed him into my chicken-rehabilitation-dog-crate (if you’re thinking about getting chickens, this is extremely helpful… I promise you will need it). He left a trail of blood on the basement floor as I carried him 😦

Once he was settled in the pine shavings, I tried to wipe off the bloody, matted feathers. This didn’t work, because the more I wiped off, the more was replaced by the still bleeding wound on his wattle. I tried to stop the bleeding with flour, but to no avail. He was very lethargic, which terrified me, but there was nothing I could do so I returned upstairs and continued with my night.

I was surprised when I didn’t wake up to a loud crowing coming from the basement. When I went downstairs, I braced myself for the worst, but instead found a very weak rooster- but still very much alive. He couldn’t bend over to drink and eat because his waddles hurt too much, so I hand fed him his food pellets dipped in water. He seemed a lot better after this, so I cooked some scrambled eggs and gave him some, which he eagerly consumed. When I offered him a bowl of water, he surprised me by shoving his entire beak in and taking several deep swigs.

At the moment he is doing much better- he even crowed a little bit! I wasn’t able to get all the blood off of his feathers, so it is still very messy. But as I write this he is sleeping next to a flat panel heater, resting up in his short-term comfort before returning to the frigid cold.

 

 

In Sum

I think I should do a brief recap of the content in this blog. In May 2014 I ordered five small chicks- three standard brown egg-layers and two easter eggers (all supposedly female).

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A few days later two chicks passed away (RIP Aida and Elvia). I was left with Sybil, Mary, and Edith, with which everything went splendidly until about 10 weeks in. At this point I realized that instead of “three little hens” I had two roosters, and one hen. Thus, Sybil/Sid was sadly sent to a nearby chicken owner. Edith is still in the picture, though his crowing and aggression is increasing every day. We will have to see.

My three little hens

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On Friday, I bought two new chickens. One Rhode Island Red hen named Cora, and an Easter Egger whose name I have not yet thought of. An hour after these chickens entered my life, the Easter Egger squeezed through an opening in the fence and took off. For three days she lived in my backyard somewhere, coming back to visit every so often. Finally, yesterday I managed to trick her into entering the run.

Before I put the chickens to bed yesterday, I noticed that Mary’s face was bloody from a bite wound (courtesy of Edith). I separated her for the night and got help with her wound care from my mother and neighbor.

As of now, my blog title finally makes sense. I can proudly say that I am the owner of three little hens.

All’s Well That Ends Well… Sort of…

The first part of today was spent walking through crowded streets underneath colorful leaves, looking at crafts and food. A festival of sorts. We dined on Apple Pie with cheese, fried dough with maple cream, indian pudding, and all sorts of food that we probably shouldn’t have eaten. It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp fall morning and afternoon. A perfect way to spend a Fall day!

But my mind would not stop wandering to my little hen (if I can even call her “mine”) all alone out in the wilderness, with no protection. Therefore, when we got home, the first place I went was the chicken coop. Edith, Mary, and Cora (the Rhode Island Red’s new name) were pecking around as usual. Whenever Cora looked at Mary the wrong way, she got a pecking to the neck/back, followed by a loud squawk.

I figured that I may as well let Edith and Mary out to see if they draw out The Escapee. So I locked Cora in the bottom of the coop (I don’t want her escaping and banding with her friend), and opened up the run. They pecked around for a bit, nonchalantly strolling through the grass while I hid behind the coop with a bag of scratch. However, when they heard the rustling of the bag of cracked corn and mealworms they came bolting over, giving away my position. This went on for a good forty minutes or so, with still no sign of The Escapee. I hadn’t seen her since Saturday morning. Finally I gave up and put them back in the run, letting Cora out as well. I began to go inside when out of no where a little white chicken came bouncing down the line of trees towards the run.

She just trotted right up, than spotted me, and disappeared into the trees immediately. But then I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could let Mary out and have her encourage The Escapee to come forth from the shrubbery. I locked Cora and Edith in the bottom of the  coop, swung open the fencing once more, and sat back on the steps about a hundred feet away. Sure enough, a white blob with fluffy cheeks came bounding through the grass. She headed straight into the little run, and when she got to the back, I sprinted as fast as my feet could carry me towards the run, slamming it shut right before The former Escapee’s eyes. Mary looked at me with confusion from the ear of corn she was pecking in the corner of the yard.

Grinning with relief, I sat in the grass. A heavy weight that was pressing on my shoulders was immediately released. I was grateful. After ten minutes of sitting there, I saw Edith lunge at Mary’s neck, just out of nowhere. Mary screeched, and lunged at Cora’s neck. It was bizarre, like a literal version of the pecking order. A few more minutes passed, I left and came back, only to see that Mary’s face was covered in blood, and part of her waddle or earlobe was split and hanging. Swearing, I frantically ran into the enclosure and grabbed her in my arms. She cooed, not struggling at all, while I placed her in a fenced in space next to the run. A few texts were sent to my neighbor/chicken supplier/boss, who promptly responded with advice.

Close to tears, I clumsily tried to wipe off her feathers with a wet sterile pad. Suddenly my mother appeared, and kindly prepared some antiseptic and gauze. She cleaned out the wound with ease and gentleness while Mary snuggled against me in my lap. After putting on some antibacterial, I put her back in the separate enclosure, and went inside to prepare my dog’s crate for chicken habitation.

My neighbor/chicken supplier/boss also appeared at the driveway, and inspected the wound. Than she applied something called Blue Kote, which makes the wound appear blue instead of red. This is useful because it discourages pecking, which can quickly turn cannibalistic when dealing with chickens.

Poor baby :(

Poor baby 😦

She seemed to think that it was perfectly fine, and not a big deal. Which leads me to think that the worst is yet to come :(.

Currently, Mary is snoozing in the basement in pine shavings with access to food, water, and grit. I’ll reintegrate her into the flock tomorrow (meaning I will put her back). Hopefully it won’t confuse the pecking order even further.

A word of caution. None of this is professional advice for wound care. In fact, quite the opposite. I really have no idea what I am doing. I’m just a girl who wants a taste of farming, who convinced her parents to let her buy a couple of chickens. Yes, I researched (and still am researching) a lot of chicken stuff beforehand, and yes I came across “words of caution” just like this one. Did I listen? Nope.

What I am trying to say, is that raising chickens isn’t all sunshine, baby chicks, cuddling birds, and colorful eggs. In the 23 weeks I have had these chickens, I have probably dealt with more stress, heartbreak, and fear in my entire life. Two baby chicks have died in my hands, I have been attacked by a cockerel I raised from  three days old, I have had to sell that bird to a man who I do not even know (with the only other solution being sell the bird to the slaughter-house), I have expected my favorite hen to die right before my eyes as she downed a stray hair-tie that I had inadvertently given her, I have searched and worried for three days straight about a chicken that I accidentally let escape, and I have watched them attack each other relentlessly over the small issue of who is dominant and who is not.

Have I regretted getting Mary and Edith? Not once. I can say without a doubt that this experience is making me a better person, and whatever comes my way I will handle. Because I have to. This responsibility is very real. And I’m loving every single minute of it.

Absolutely Positively Wonderful News

They found her! The lost pullet traveled back to her original home down the street! Words can’t describe my joy. Now I can start enjoying my new little pullet more, with that guilty feeling completely gone.

Just thought I should let you guys know. What an experience these two days have been.

Waiting for that First Egg

…proves to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I mean, come on Mary! I think its time you contributed! Sing the egg song at least please

They are 21 weeks old and two days as of today. Which means it’s about time for the egg laying to begin! Every morning I search around the coop and inside it for a hidden egg. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I’m getting a little tired of this un-yielding easter egg hunt. Her little face is quite red, but I haven’t heard the raucous egg song, nor have I seen her squatting. She hasn’t even ventured inside the new nest box I got her. That’s right. I bought her a nice little wooden nest box, and filled it with straw so its nice and cozy. Now she has no excuse. What’s frustrating is that the egg could come any time from now to three weeks from now. That’s a big range.

So that’s what’s going on in my life right now. That, and a whole lot of homework, and working. But, I have finally mastered the art of making a soft-serve ice cream cone. At least, they don’t look as terrible anymore…

Also, before I forget, I visited my neighboring farm two weeks ago to look at available chickens. They were scuttling around everywhere hidden under fencing and maple trees, dust bathing in the pig pen or roosting on some milk-stands. I asked for a Rhode Island Red pullet, an Easter Egger pullet, and a little fluffy bantam hen mix. I’m so excited, I can barely talk about it without jumping up and down. She hasn’t been in touch since, but she will have to sneak into the coop at night and grab them, placing them in a different coop until I can come and get them. As I passed the baby goats and snorting pigs, I saw a tiny little bantam with a lavender tinge to her feathers walking along the fence line. I looked again and saw five-day old chicks running behind her, cheeping and hopping, tumbling through the dirt after their mother. Leading the pack of chicks was an older chick, about a week or two. She explained to me that the older chick’s mother had abandoned it, and this little bantam accepted her into her brood. My heart almost melted.

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Scatter Brained

Scatter brained is the only phrase that can describe me right now. With the start of school, everything has been busy, busy, busy. I get up at 6:00 AM, take care of my chickens, get dressed, eat half of a half of a bagel (I’m never hungry in the morning), jump in the car with my neighbor, drive to school, and show up slightly disheveled and unenthusiastic. Everyone in the whole school congregates in the cafeteria, then the bell shrieks and we trudge to our assigned homerooms. We chatter sullenly about how done we are with school, and did you get that math homework last night? No? Good, me neither.

The bell shrieks again, and we are off to the first of our many classes. My days are ruled by ringing bells and swarming hallways. When I get home, I sit down on the table, and do homework till 7:00 at night. Than I eat. Than I continue doing homework until 10:00, 10:30, or 11:00.

Then repeat.

Posting on my blog is a little guilty angel on the back of my shoulder, reminding me of shirked responsibilities. So I apologize for my recent absence! My blog isn’t the only thing I haven’t been able to pay attention to. I haven’t visited my garden in two weeks, I only see my chickens twice a day. I’m not a fan of this schedule. Today I decided I had enough with homework and spent the day with my chickens, making up for lost time. I free ranged them for a little, fed them a little chicken scratch, and just enjoyed the activity. I’m expecting an egg from Mary in the next few weeks!!! Very exciting! I also noticed Edith doing the mating dance for Mary (lowering one wing and strutting around in a circle), and this morning he attempted to actually mate. Mary was not pleased, as anyone could tell from the squawking and flying feathers. She escaped his attentions, but that didn’t stop me from feeling terrible for her.

Well, I’m going to enjoy the rest of my homeworkless night. I’ll keep you updated on the Egg Watch. I promise I won’t forget about you!

Here are some pictures of what I’ve been up to

A New Lonely Lifestyle

You’re probably wondering what the heck I mean by that post title. Lonely? New lifestyle? Huh?

Don’t worry, it’s just me being a little dramatic again. Two days ago we dropped my sister off at college for her first semester. She and I are very close, especially because we shared a room from the moment I was born. I told her most of my problems, and she listened and gave me advice. I’d bake her cookies, or muffins, and she’d drive me to a coffee shop. We always watched different shows together, binge watching them over our frozen pizza and iced tea. This summer we spent just about every day together, and suddenly she is ripped from my life completely. Gone, meeting new people in a strange environment, sharing a room with someone else. Everyone tells me “She’ll be a different person when she gets back, it’s amazing the changes that happen!” as if it’s a good thing. As if I would want her to be anything other than what I know her to be.

So when I’m sad about her leaving for college, I’m sad for myself. Because no one is going to bring me to the coffee shop anymore. No one is going to listen to me the way she does. No one is going to bicker with me about who has to turn the lights off at night. No one is going to share the cult TV shows on Netflix with me. When I look across the room, her bed sheets are stripped off, leaving an exposed mattress. Empty, forlorn.

I resolved myself as we drove away from her that afternoon that I would bury myself in whatever I could. Gardening. Work. Perhaps I’d take up jogging. Yoga? Anything to keep my mind off of that fact that she isn’t here. My voice is rusty from not talking all day.

On the topic of work, I trained with the animals on Wednesday. I got there, and the person training me showed me to the wheel barrow, shovel, and rake. He told me to clean up the straw in each of the stalls. I did, and I’m pretty sure I have never seen so much feces in my entire life. In one pen, the alpacas (two shaggy, spitting beasts) live with three friendly little horned goats. In another, a mother goat lives with her kid. In another pen, three Nigerian Dwarf does live together. A third pen has a doe and two adorable twin kids with black fur. Another contains multiple hens and a rooster. Another has ducks. The list continues, but I assume you’re probably done hearing about it.

Anyways, everything went swimmingly until I reached a pen with two brown, huge, Nubian does. I walked in, like I had countless times before, and rolled the wheel barrow to their little hut. The two goats bounded away from me, and only came close enough to sniff my hand. That was okay with me, as I was extremely tired, and to the point of gagging with the smell of goat urine in my nose. I continued shoveling the spoiled hay into the wheel barrow, every once in a while spotting a mischievous goat head peering around the corner at me. A few minutes later, I heard a rattling noise. Familiar with antics of goats, I dropped my rake and ran outside to see a flash of brown fur pass by outside of the fence. Swearing, I undid the gate, accidentally letting the other goat out. They trotted around me, running away whenever I walked near them. Their amber goat eyes gleaming with amusement. I told the person who was training me what happened, and we managed to herd them back into their pen after 40 minutes of stressful scrambling. Not the best first day.

I also had another day of ice cream training as well. Thursday was my final day of training, and I do the real thing tomorrow. I got the text for my hours as I made muffins this morning (they were blueberry lime and absolutely delicious). I’m extremely nervous for various reasons.

  • I can’t make an ice cream cone to save my life
  • I don’t really remember anything I learned because it was so much to process
  • I don’t know who I’ll be working with- I’m not really good at meeting new people

I’m sure there’s more, I just can’t think of it. You may have noticed, I have a terrible memory.

Tired Feet

Today was my first day on my first job. Well, I wasn’t paid for today, and won’t be for tomorrow or the next day because I’m training, but it was essentially what I’ll be doing when I do get paid. Anyways, I stayed there for four hours following around the girl who was training me. Lots of destroyed ice cream cones, and minutes, later I was finally released from the constant cacophony of humming refrigerators. I limped home in my old flats, and lay on the couch. I think wearing poorly supported flats when I knew I was going to be standing four hours straight on concrete was a bad choice. 

Oh, I’m such a lazy teenager. You’re probably rolling your eyes at me right now. Don’t feel bad. So are my lower back and feet arches. 

An hour ago I gave the chickens their favorite part of the day. Free range time! I let them run/fly/strut while I kept an eye out for the many hawks and house cats that frequent my yard. I even saw a huge bald eagle yesterday, swooping over the house. It was a beautiful, menacing sight. 

I’ve really thought about my dilemma from my last post, about where to get my new chickens. I think I’m going to go with the local chickens, and hope for the best. I love Easter Eggers (she said they were Ameracaunas, but I think she means Easter Eggers. Ameracaunas are a very rare, expensive breed that lays blue eggs, whereas Easter Eggers are a cross between Ameracaunas and something else, and thus are for more common and less expensive). It doesn’t matter, anyways. The fact is, traveling two hours with chickens when I can travel five minutes is just impractical. Or, at least that’s what I’ve convinced myself.

 

Tomorrow is Day 2 of training. I’ll get to the farm at 7 and help another worker with the feeding/cleaning. I’m hoping it will go okay… Its hard not to feel nervous, as silly as it sounds. 

I’ll let you know how it went tomorrow!