Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Mean Martha

Since Dolley's death, there has been a major shake-up in the henhouse. Though apparently benevolent, Dolley must have been in charge of the whole operation. We never heard her squawk much at the other birds, though she did try pecking at the little girls through the wire in their separate run before they were all integrated. She died before we had a chance to see how she would treat the young pullets.

Enter Martha:


Dolley left a power vacuum that Martha was quick to fill. (Martha has always been the most skittish, so this may have been a defensive move that bore a lot of fruit for her.) She terrorizes the young birds, stabbing at their tails and chasing them away from food, water and treats until she gets bored or needs to go lay. The henhouse has been much louder lately as she squawks and bullies her way through the day. 

This is all totally normal behavior (for chickens), and since no one is bleeding or hurt, we've mostly let it go. But the other thing that happens in the (brutal) establishing of a pecking order is that the big boss hen also controls the roosting bar, quite literally "ruling the roost" (some day I will write about all of the ways in which the humble chicken has influenced our language). 

And Martha is such a jerk about this that she won't let any of the three new chickens (Rachel, Louisa Catherine, and Lizzy) sleep on the roosting bar at all. This forces them to bed down for the night atop the nesting boxes. Or if you're gimpy Lizzy (she's had a bit of a bum foot from Day One, but she does all right), you curl up inside the nesting box. Cozy, but also messy, since now there's always chicken poop in there and the hens won't lay in it (and rightly so). 

Our biggest concern is that Martha's pushiness will leave the young hens no place to lay when they are ready (which should be within the next month). They spend a lot of time roosting outside to avoid her wrath, and we have visions of splattered, useless eggs laid from three feet in the air.

And although if Martha were a person I'd be tempted to suggest that she's just leaning in to her work of managing the chicken coop, and we should learn to appreciate her bossiness as executive vision, she's a chicken. So into a private retreat she goes:


Kirk refashioned the brooder to have a gabled roof so a big chicken would have room to jump without hitting her head, and he also added a permanent, adult-sized roosting bar:


M'lady is not pleased:


The whole contraption is in the workshop, and she scolds and flies up in a rage almost every time we go out there. She's well fed and comfortable, but keeping her isolated for the next two or three weeks should help knock her down a few pegs in the pecking order. As the other chickens settle into a new hierarchy, they won't take kindly to any unsolicited bitchiness from Martha when she finally comes back. We're hoping that this brings more peace and stability to the chicken coop. 

So far,  it's working nicely: 


Abigail was taking a dust bath with the three youngest birds today, and Sally politely shared the groundhog-nibbled pumpkin treat with everyone. They're all still looking over their shoulders, but soon I think Sally will settle into the leadership role and things should be much quieter out there.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Flower Friday: August 21, 2015

Glad I made it outside to cut flowers yesterday before today's downpours came and crushed a bunch of our cutting bed plants. Here's what I'm enjoying in the vase this week:


hosta, snapdragons, and zinnia


black-eyed Susans


rose, Chinese forget-me-not, lavender, and yarrow

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Plight of the Blue Jay

How loud does a blue jay screech? Extra loud, if he's stuck in your three season porch:


We've had a lot of birds take up residence here this summer: woodpeckers, chickadees, catbirds, cedar waxwings, and cardinals have all moved in, in addition to the usual robins and sparrows. Kirk even saw a humming bird in the perennial border, though it was too fast for us to get a photo. I think they all took advantage of the power vacuum left by Fletch's absence, and somehow they all manage to get along despite the presence of many blue jays.

In case you're not familiar, blue jays are mean. I've seen them keep crows at bay, and they screech and scratch and generally bully anything else with feathers. 

And we have a lot of them this summer, picking away at some of our grapes and pole beans. 

But how did one end up inside? Cooper must have caught it and dragged it in through the cat door. He then proceeded to play with it for what must have been most of the afternoon:


If you look closely, you'll notice that Mr. Blue Jay has only a single tail feather left. He must have fought back:


Cooper seems unable to make a clean kill of much of anything larger than a mouse. To be fair, he is an excellent mouser, and he politely drops them near his food dish almost daily, presumably to trade up for delicious cat food. He's also nabbed a bird or two.

Last week, we saw him running around the garden after something. His favorite thing to chase are grasshoppers, but since he wasn't jumping and twisting in the air (which is hilarious and viral-video worthy if I could manage to catch it on camera), we took a closer look.

He had cornered a rabbit in a tomato cage and sat just staring at it, nearly nose to nose. I almost got a picture of that, but Cooper flushed the rabbit out right before I snapped the photo. He chased it down to the potatoes, then sat panting and watching it. The rabbit, meanwhile, was too terrified to move.

A close look at the rabbit revealed that Cooper had torn a flap of skin off its thigh, but otherwise declined to finish him off.

Rabbit screams are not pretty, and Kirk decreed this an animal kingdom issue.

After dinner we saw that the rabbit had moved to the swing set, frozen on place under the tower while Cooper sat on a platform above, switching his tail and just looking at the heavily panting rabbit.

Cooper got bored and decided to mess up our game of badminton instead; the rabbit hopped to the fence and eventually wriggled away. I don't know if it will survive its wound, but I'm not terribly sympathetic: that bastard has been nibbling our parsnips and ruined our Brussels sprouts:


Anyway, once it became clear that Cooper had no interest in finishing off the blue jay (and after several minutes of listening to the bird call back and forth to its mate up in one of the back trees, which made me feel bad, even though these bastards eat other birds' eggs), Kirk put on some gloves and armed himself with a five-gallon bucket and a badminton racket. 

We propped open the door, and after a couple tries the bird flew out and sat for a while on the bean house, where he was probably mapping out tomorrow's breakfast. After a bit, he flew to one of the trees out back. He didn't seem too much worse for wear, though it looked like he had trouble flying straight without much of a rudder left.

Still, I'm hoping that word gets around the animal kingdom that if you mess around the potager, you might get maimed. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Flower Friday: August 14, 2015

There are still lots of flowers going strong in the cutting garden, and they seem no worse for wear as the ride out the dry spell we've had this August. This is one time where the deep afternoon shade is a blessing, but in general I think most flowers would enjoy a sunnier location. Alas, they will always play second fiddle to tomatoes and beans, and so must learn to adapt to less than optimal conditions.

Anyway, I really love blue flowers, so I was excited to have enough blooming at once to make an all-blue bouquet:


Chinese forget-me-not, bachelor's buttons, and lavender 

I also grabbed a few other really bright flowers for a different room. That zinnia grew with a crazily bent stem so it looks a little funny, but I like the way the yellow center exactly matches the other yellow petals:
 

Zinnia and black-eyed Susans

I almost put some pale pink snapdragons and baby's breath in that blue bouquet, but decided against it. Pink and blue always makes a pretty combination, but I was surprised to note that those blues can also hold their own with the hot colors:


This is like the floral version of a kid's crayon box. These vases ended up in two different rooms of the house, but this potential color combination is good for future reference.