Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Some more first peeks at the garden

Well, we're beginning to see the beginning fruits of our labor (John's loving attention to all of our seedlings all spring and my tilling contributions as well as seed planting). We have a gazillion green tomatoes all over our plants--Beefsteaks, romas, a yellow variety and several unknowns, as they are volunteers that shot up in our small kitchen garden just off the back porch. We are battling some end blossom rot on a couple of plants but John thinks that can be solved by adding some lime. The crookneck squash and zucchini (a very pale Italian green variety) are also emerging, however we are also having some blossom issues with them that we don't understand. John has scoured all of his grardening books, to no avail. If anyone has any ideas, they would be greatly appreciated. We've staked the tomatoes with both good old tomato cages, as well as "bamboo" stakes and some are just left to make do on their own. The cucumbers have two kinds of stakes, one created from fiberglass poles connected with twine and another arch support created with salvage something or other that John found in our barn. I like it the best because it is the most aesthetically pleasing thing in our garden, asied from the plants themselves.
We finally got the melons in the ground and they have lots of room to sprawl. The boys are most excited about them.
All in all, it is starting to look like a real garden. We're learning tons everyday about what we did right and what we could most definitely improve upon next year. But it is incredibly exciting to watch things come to life and to know that you had a small part in that.

A true Sun Flower

It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,
And thy cheeks unprofaned by a tear,
That the fervor and faith of a soul may be known,
To which time will but make thee more dear!
Oh the heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close,
As the sunflower turns to her god when he sets
The same look which she turned when he rose!
- Thomas Moore

First tomatoes

"Oh, what I wouldn't give for a plate of fried green tomatoes like we used to have at the cafe. Ooh! "
-Ninny Threadgoode, Fried Green Tomatoes

Well, we simply couldn't wait for our tomatoes to ripen and since it looks like we are going to have a boatload of tomatoes to contend with, we decided to go ahead and harvest a few. Plus, who couldn't go for a grilled chees sandwich with fried green tomatoes and roasted red peppers? Yummy.

My version of prayer flags

"Prayers go up and blessings come down."
-Yiddish Proverb quotes

As I was hanging our cloth napkins on the line yesterday I was struck at how much they resembled Tibetan prayer flags. I've never thought about my laundry on the line in that capacity before. I suppose it was because it was our napkins, which are a variety of colors and uniform in size, but still, the resemblance and, more importantly, the significance of it, was remarkable. It is exactly these simple acts, done on a daily basis and with a humble heart, that can and should be my offering to God.

"We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love."
-Mother Teresa

Civil War Day

The boys and I attended "Civil War Days" at the Capitol last week. It was a neat event sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources, The Missouri State Museum and various folks involved in Civil War reenactments. There were different stations that the boys could visit, with the first stop being--enlisting in the United States Army. The boys both signed their names on paper that looked like real parchment and that had the actual words from the enlistment papers that men signed in order to join the Army. They tried on Union and Confederate uniforms, took part in the shooting of a cannon replica, just in miniature, and participated in a scavenger hunt that had them searching for hardtack, fiddle players, ammunition and dressings for their wounds. It was a neat introduction to a subject that I am sure we will delve into deeper in the years to come.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Renaissance Festival

"Enter these enchanted woods, you who dare..."
--George Meredith

Last Saturday we attended the much anticipated Renaissance Festival, put on by our local library. We've had it on our calendar for months and the boys had been anxiously awaiting its arrival so, when Saturday arrived, you can only imagine the excitement.

This was not as big of a deal as many Renaissance Festivals that are put on all around the country, seeing as it was sponsored by our library and it only cost us $2 a person to get in! However, it was very much geared towards the kids and thus we had a really good time as a family. Yes, there were the occasional folks who had dressed up to attend the festival but nothing like what you would see elsewhere.

There were areas set up where people could demonstrate skills such as blacksmithing, weaving, and bloodletting (okay, they weren't demonstrating that but they had all the crazy instruments used to administer such ludicrous "medical" procedures). There were artisan booths where shields, swords, clothing, etc were being sold. And there were knights challenging each other to duels, complete with armor and swords. And, of course, there were Pirates. Yes, John and I are still trying to figure out the insertion of pirates into this festival, seeing as the height of piracy was in the mid 18th century. Our conclusion was simply, why not? Kids love them, despite their brutal and horrific crimes against humanity, so why not celebrate them along with lords and ladies?

There was also a section set up for kids to play carnival type games (for free!), like shooting arrows at a castle, catapulting frogs into a moat and a large hay bale maze. After each game, regardless of how well the children did, they were given gold medallions that they could trade in for prizes. And despite my recent moratorium on all cheap plastic "toys" being allowed into our household, I relented and let the boys load up on all things "Renaissance" like king crowns, pirate rings and stuffed snakes. They loved it!

It's HOT!!!!

Well, summer has descended upon us with a vengeance. Actually, I don't think descended is the right word, more like, crashed down on us, suffocating us with its humidity and unmoving air. The first three weeks of June were unseasonably cool and very wet. But now we are experiencing incredibly hot temperatures and heat indices, like most folks in the rest of the country, and it is taking a bit of time to get used to it.

The chickens are managing. They are animals after all and thus, they need to have some survival skills in order to continue on in this world. But, they sure do appreciate pans of ice. Here's Obrahma simply standing on top of an ice tray I put out for them. Usually, they sip the water that comes from the melting ice but Obrahma decided to experience the glory of the ice cube straight up.

We've made some adjustments to their set up. We moved their coop to another area and installed our electric fence, sans the electric component since I ordered the wrong charger (oops!). We decided to get the fence in the first place for predator control, mainly for at night. The coop is as predator proof as we could make it but we had read that an electric fence was just another layer of security in case your coop had any weaknesses. The contained area helped them to really get a feel for their new stomping ground and where their coop was but there were a couple of things wrong with the set up.

First, there was suddenly no shade available, except for under the coop, of which they took full advantage but, it was a bit crowded under there so I'm not sure how much relief they really got from the heat all mushed together.

Second, the ground within their new area is sub par, to say the least. It's part of the area that they had to fill in with, what else but, fill, which is not dirt but simply crap they scoop us from somewhere and dump in your yard in order to "fill" the area with crap. It might help to level out an area but it leaves much to be desired in the "what can we do with this piece of land?" department. There is a lot of clover that has managed to grow up between the small gravel that passes for dirt, so at least there is greenery that they can munch on, but there are lots of divets and such that don't drain well and when you have the kind of showers that we had been having, it makes for a boggish kind of experience, at least until the puddles can evaporate.

Third, and really most important to me, they were confined. I had no idea how much that would bother me, but it does. After we moved them to their coop from the brooder and slowly allowed them to have free reign over our yard in the area where we orginally placed their coop(hey, that might be an original phrase I could use to market our eggs, instead of free range we could sell "free reign" eggs! Note to self....) I came to really love walking out our back door and visiting with them throughout the day. Even just looking out the window and seeing them doing their chicken things just really made me happy.

Well, when we moved them around the barn and placed their coop just out of sight of the house and put up the fence, well.... I found myself increasingly unhappy with the situation. It just didn't seem right to suddenly have them "cooped" up, for lack of a better description, after they had already has such a wonderful taste of freedom. I was not content to keep them confined. And honestly, they didn't seem like the same chickens. They didn't have any fun bushes to explore or tall grass to hide in or wood piles to pick bugs off of. It just wasn't right. So, I asked John if we could open up the fence and let them explore. He was okay with that, especially as the temperatures continued to climb and access to more shade seemed like the only humane thing to do. I guess, too, I felt that the risk of predators during the day was a lot less than at night. When they go in their coop at night, I close the doors and it is as predator proof as it can be.

And the freedom! Oh how they love it. They started venturing down our gravel road into the woods, not venturing too far but far enough to find new and exciting adventures. Like rotting stumps with bugs and mushrooms and lots of cool dirt under the trees within which they could nap or take dust baths.

And I found myself much happier and content. This is what chickens are meant to do. This is the natural thing to do. And if we are going to do this, we're going to do it right. I don't want to eat my chickens or their eggs unless I feel that they had it better off at our place. Otherwise, what's the point?

Now, if I can only get them to stay in our yard....

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fun with chickens

Here is a clip of what the chickens do when they are first let out of the coop in the morning. Most step out on the ramp and then fly a few feet, as if to stretch their wings. Then they start bolting across the yard, most often to one of two walnut saplings that have sprung up from stumps. Although we intend to chop them down as soon as possible (you can't have walnut trees that close to the garden) they will remain until we move the chickens. They provide perfect cover for them to run to if threatened and they also love to perch on the low branches.

For the love of chickens

Let me introduce you to one of our favorite chickens. We've nicknamed him "Obrahma" in honor of our new president and because of his breed, which is a Brahma. John wittily referred to him as a "chicken he could believe in!" We just love him because he is absolutely beautiful, is very inquisitive and brave and because he looks like a big muppet when he runs across the grass. We are also confidently calling him a "he" because he is so much bigger than the other two chickens that also appear to be Brahmas and because he likes to pick pecking order fights with the other roosters (there seem to be more of those roosters than I imagined we would have but that's another story). When he gets into one of these tussles, his hackle feathers (those black ones on the back of his neck) stick straight up and he starts doing this "You talkin' to me?" kind of pose as he circles around the other rooster. He is most definitely our biggest chicken but he is also the most striking. Everyone that meets him says he is beautiful. We'll be keeping him.

The chickens' personalities are slowly emerging. The black ones, which seem to be primarily Australorps, love to explore. You can see one of them here, perched on a woodpile, alongside one of our unknown breeds. They love this woodpile and you will find four to five chickens on it constantly throughout the day. It must be teeming with all kinds of bugs and such and so it is naturally attractive to them.
That has been the funnest part of actually letting the chickens out of the brooder, into their coop, and out onto the "range" each day. They love to be outside and they explore endlessly. Sure, they stop and take naps from time to time, but inevitably, they hop up and begin scratching and searching for bugs, worms, grit and anything else that suits their fancy. We are presently letting them truly free range now but we have our electric fence ordered. Once that arrives, we will reposition their coop to the side of the barn and we will put up the fence as perimeter protection. They will have a pretty large section of land to range on but they will then be protected from our area's marauding cats and the fox family that lurks in the nearby culvert. Plus, it will relocate them AWAY from our garden, which they are happily ranging on daily, much to our dismay. We didn't exactly think that one through and we spend a lot of time running them out of there. In fact, this morning, I stopped Aidan as he was walking out the back door, armed with his sword and scabbard and asked him what he was up to. "I'm going to get the chickens out of the garden!" Don't worry, no chickens were harmed in the process. He was just trying to show them he meant business!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Blog - NWF Green Hour

Blog - NWF Green Hour

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Summary of events

It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know of wonder and humility.

--Rachel Carson

Well, we've been so consumed with all things chicken around here, not to mention weddings upon weddings and graduations and deaths and illnesses, that I have not stopped long enough to ponder it all. Life has continued to journey on, whether I have stopped to document it or not, and as a result, much time has passed without an entry. Rather than try desperately to articulate all that has happened in the last month I think I will just give a summary--a roundup of sorts--in order to catch up to the present day and then to try and blog more regularly. It is becoming, more and more, summer and it might be harder and harder to come in from outside and sit in front of a screen. But I also don't like so much happening in our lives without some space to reflect on it all.

As mentioned above, most of our weekends in May were spent away from our home. We've had two weddings, a graduation and a funeral in the past month. Needless to say, those events kept us away from our own home and meant that we weren't here doing some much needed work. That's fine and I'm not complaining. The weddings and graduation were celebrations worthy of slowing down and savoring. The funeral and sicknesses, however, were unforseen. They, together with the smaller more usual events, made for a month ripe with the fullness of life--a collection of the good and the bad that make up this lifetime of days.

We managed to get our garden plot tilled--okay, most of it tilled. There is one section along the bottom half that still hasn't been tilled, but we've decided to cheat a bit and only hand till it where we want to put in our melons. We really only need a small area to be prepared because the majority of that space is just going to be space for the melons to sprawl in and doesn't need to be tilled. At the end of the season, we will till under all the vines and then it will be ready for next year. We have planted tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, summer squash and zucchini. We have also planted corn, pole beans and winter squash in an arrangement known as the "Three Sisters." This grouping is a native American technique. The corn grows tall in the middle and acts as a support to the pole bean and the squash acts as a mulch for the other plants. We're hoping that this arrangement will prove to be as successful for us as it was for the first Americans. And lastly, we have cantaloupe, honey dew and a watermelon variety known as "sun and stars."

We've also enjoyed watching the native plants emerge from the flower bed the previous owners planted. We knew that they had planted various things but we had no idea what. Although I was anxious to put down some things of my own, I knew that I should wait and see what came up first. I'm so glad that I did b/c it has been quite lovely to behold. The patch of daisies is splendid and the coreopsis, coral bells and dianthus are beautiful. The boys and I did manage to plant one new bed just for them, however and it will hopefully reward us with 7 foot tall sunflowers and diminutive, yet beautiful zinnias.

We had a parade of migratory birds this year that included rose breasted grosbeaks, baltimore orioles, summer tanagers and indigo buntings. We have also now hosted every variety of woodpeckers that can be found in the state of Missouri--an accomplishment that we are very proud to have achieved. We also had a family of Eastern kingbirds build a nest in our barn lean-to, complete with five perfect eggs that all hatched and flegded along nicely. We love our regular bird visitors, especially Missouri's state bird, the Eastern Bluebird.

And then, there are the chickens, of course. But, I think I will save that for another post.
All in all, it has been a full spring. I told the boys how neat it was that God would lead us to this house in the dead of winter yet we still fell in love with it. We had no idea, however, what new beauties and discoveries we would make come spring and summer and so we get to experience an anticipatory excitement all over again. What a blessing!