Monday, June 22, 2015

The Eating Season

Despite everything that has made this spring kind of sucky, we have managed, as we somehow always to do, to have food. The rains came, the sun shone, and we are finally in the eating season.

Do they give prizes for broccoli? This might be the best head ever. Now we just need to find time to cut it and eat it (or freeze it) before it blows open in the heat. Timing is everything.

The peas are filling out their pods, and are super sweet. We've managed to stay on top of picking them for freezing, but I'm hoping to enjoy some fresh as well.

Our snap peas are doing really well this year. These are a variety called "shiraz," which we like because it's so easy to see them among the vines for harvesting. They aren't quite as sweet as green ones, but when you eat them young, they're great.

We had trouble getting the lettuces started, but now we have a bed of really beautiful butter crunch and romaine heads. Almost too pretty to eat!

June is also strawberry month, and we've been enjoying eating these. Because we've been so busy, we've just frozen a bunch whole. We'll be able to turn them into jam or ice cream or crisp later. We also have an everbearing variety, so we'll be able to keep snacking on them all summer long after this first flush is over. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Fragrant Garden

Back in May, I decided to revamp the little daffodil and hosta border in front of our three-season porch to be filled with more fragrant flowers. The idea here is that these plants are right outside the screened jalousie windows where the furniture is on our porch, so we could enjoy plants that smell nice right outside the windows.

The challenge is that this area is also shaded by the sugar maple, which makes choosing flowers tricky. There are lots of leafy plants for shade, but not many flowers. Luckily, not all of the area is in darkness. The left is the shadiest; the right has more sun:

So as you can see, I moved the hosta into the shady section, and set out a new hydrangea in the partial-sun portion. Hydrangeas don't smell like anything at all, but I love blue ones, and wanted to create a little vignette of my summertime favorites: blue hydrangeas, white daisies, and orange daylilies: 

That should look better in the future when everything fills in and blooms at the same time.

I am glad to get a least a little taste of it for now, though. I'm also working on the acidity to make those hydrangeas even more blue, but it's not a bad start on the color so far.

For the shady section, I filled in the spots between hosta with some lily of the valley and sweet woodruff, both of which smell great and should fill in the shady spot with no trouble. I also put in a tiny cutting of valerian, which also smells sweet and should get tall enough to see from the couch inside. The hostas smell nice when they bloom as well. 

For the space in between the shade and the partial sun hydrangea section, I sowed seeds for fragrant stock. That happened pretty late, so they're really tiny right now. In the future, I plan to plant a mix of annual stock, night blooming stock, mignonette, and heliotrope in the gaps for scent. 

This year, though, I didn't think of any of this fast enough to order and start seeds, so it will go on the shopping list for next winter. Like so many things around here, it's a work in progress!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Animal Adaptations

Since Dolley's death, there have been a lot of changes for all of our animals. We had been worried that she, as our pluckiest chicken, would be all over the new chicks when we tried to integrate them into the flock. Because of that, we were really taking our time introducing them to the hen house and chicken run. 

But now the rival groups of chickens are even in number: three big girls and three little ones. Louisa Catherine had already jumped the fence and lived to tell the tale, so we knew were getting close to bringing them together.

Enter Cooper.

We let him out of his acclimation cage some time in the middle of last week, since he seemed much calmer. (Well, he was calmer until we tried to leave after feeding him: then he would throw himself around our legs and hang on for dear life. This was cute as long as you weren't wearing shorts and sandals.)

On Saturday, after he rolled over and let me rub his belly as a thank you for his breakfast (totally different cat!), I took the cover off the cat door and showed him how it worked, and he came out to sit with me on the porch of the workshop.

Turns out our tough guy is a very cautious kitty. When Fletch first got sprung from the cage, he took long tours of the neighborhood, sometimes for a couple days at a time. Cooper, on the other hand, hasn't made it past the center path. He's ever-so-gradually making bigger circles around the workshop, hen house, and bee hive. 

His encounters with other animals have been hilarious.

On Saturday, he went immediately into crouch mode to stalk the chickens. Though they were safely behind chicken wire in the run, the freaked out and jumped up in a mess of flapping and feathers. That scared the daylights out of Cooper, who hightailed it back into the workshop.

This continued throughout the morning, and each time the chickens got a scare, another chick ended up hopping the fence and landing on the side of the hen house with the big hens. With a common enemy terrorizing them (and himself), the chickens were too busy to peck at each other, and they've been getting along swimmingly ever since. 

So later that day we took down the chicken wire that separated them, and we've seen them all sharing food and generally accepting each other's existence with equanimity.

The bees are another story.

On Sunday we opened the hive to do our weekly check, and Cooper was all over the bees. He jumped up on the hive to look right inside, and later he sat at the entrance swatting at bees as they made their way in and out. I'm pretty sure he eventually got stung on the cheek, because he tore away fast and was licking his chops and rubbing his face for a while after that. 

He also killed a mouse in the workshop, so things are going well here on the animal front as everyone adjusts to life without Dolley. If we could just get Cooper to hang out by the strawberry patch to keep the chipmunks and birds at bay, we'd be in really good shape.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Elegy For A Chicken

The Most Difficult Spring continues: I came home today to a changed hen house.

First, I checked our younger chickens in their section of the run, only to find that Louisa Catherine was missing. Dolley too, but the big ones were in and out of the hen house, so it was confusing. Louisa Catherine wasn't in the oven either, but I finally found her hiding under the ramp into the hen house, crouched down in a hollow left from the big girls' dust baths.

She must have hopped over the loose "ceiling" chicken wire and into the big run, where she promptly was pecked at until she hid.

Actually, the others weren't being all that mean. Only Martha would give her a little chase and a few pecks every now and then. No blood, no missing feathers. Just regular old pecking order stuff.

Once I had that sorted, I looked around.

No Dolley.

I found her in the hen house, lying under the watering fount.


It's hard to describe the silence left behind by an animal's death.

So Kirk buried her on the hill behind the fence, and now we have three big hens and three little pullets.

Dolley was always the best chicken. She was the smallest when we first got the chicks, and she had an incredibly awkward adolescence. But she was the first to lay and was by far the most reliable for the first 18 months of her life, laying an egg day without fail until last summer, when she was suddenly spent

Despite not being a layer any more, she made up lack of production with personality. She would run like a dog any time someone walked past, assuming they must have a treat. She sat down to let us pick her up without a fuss, and she pecked at everything to get a taste of what was going on.

And she always loved a good photo bomb.

Lately she had been pecking herself, and though it's possible she got an infection, I don't think that's what happened. Her feathers had been growing back nicely after the winter's pecking once we used the Blu-Kote, and she never looked sick.

A friend of ours with a flock of chickens told us that sometimes a chicken just dies, and it looks like that's what happened here. No wound, no visible signs of lethargy or illness. One evening she was greedily eating chipmunk-nibbled strawberries; the next we found her with eyes closed, stretched out at home.

And really, we should all be so lucky.