Saturday, June 9, 2012

The State of the Garden

a pea plant growing beneath the sunchokes looking a little like a butterfly
Michelle Obama's book, American Grown, about the Whitehouse kitchen garden, was recently released.  Her garden looks impeccably well planned and kept... like I might have my garden in a utopian world. But she has a massive team of people whose entire job is to try make that garden the show garden of the nation.

I, on the other hand, like many gardeners I know, have a real garden, a neglected garden with great ideals that began it, but that were set aside for other currently more important things.  My distractions were finishing the homeschool year and raising new baby animals on our farm.  My brother asked me earlier this year if I could live off my garden.  No way.  It's too easy to take a trip to Costco.  In my utopia, there is a root cellar that's full and canning and freezing that will feed my family all year, as well as a four season garden.  In my reality, the food we grow is still at hobby level.

I think it happens like this every year.  In January I have lofty goals, and by June, the reality sets in that there is only one Angie and about 12 projects I've immersed myself in.  So the reality of the state of this year's garden is such:  it is a product of many mistakes, much learning, failed ideas and successes, plans waylayed and new plans implemented.  It's an ecosystem of weeds and garden plants, certainly not a sterile showplace, but it's a haven for me.  I can walk into it and lose three hours, coming back feeling invigorated instead of spent.

There is always more I wish I had done, and gardens I wish mine were like, but in the end, my garden is a reflection of me: haphazard, surprising and completely unique.  I think I would feel out of place with perfectly spaced cabbages, beautifully framed by flawless lettuces.  Instead, give me my bolting mustard and radishes, my maturing garlic, my carrots of various ages, and my mulches of every kind.  They give me something to mull over, to improve on.  What fun would it be if the state of the garden was already perfection?

The first hollyhock I've ever grown successfully has come back this year
this is the year of peas I guess.  I was given extra seed, so i planted them everywhere...even alongside our fence
The tomatoes are doing very well.  They are thick stalked and happy.  The 4 plants from my original starts are the same size as the ones my brother gave me to save the day.  They very much like the mini greenhouse and some are flowering.  I need to make a real green house, however.  The tomato cages become watertowers whenever it rains!

It is impossible to resist a picture of the yucca plant.  It is so boisterous!

Irises.  I think Irises and poppies are all I need.  And lilacs.  Well, and maybe gardenias, but those don't grow here.  
Wild blackberry.  Looks like I planned it to be there.

poppy sky

maia wanted to show me the poppy pod
look how carefully the bamboo protects its newest side shoot
Raspberries!!! And they said it couldn't be done in my wet and sodden soil!  happy day!

Saraiah started a garden in the middle of the grass, planting a bean plant from school and a few peas.  I protected it with some baling twine and sticks, mulched it and planted a ring of sunflowers and peas to grow up them.  She should have a tiny fort, just big enough for her.

Saraiah's peas

peas and sunchokes
koa found an earthworm beneath the mulch

feeding mommy salmonberries

berry picking

the fruit trees have a few little fruits on them


Beanpoles with beans planted at the poles and squash beneath, protected from crows and dogs by chicken wire. Pea trellis to the right.  Weeds to the left and sprinkled liberally around.  LOTS of potatoes.

pumpkins, a volunteer potato and lots of weeds

I know why the caged bean sings.


potato madness!

Something thinks the potato leaves are nutritious

training the pea tendrils



some sort of brassica.  I think it's cabbage.

Hawaiian bunching onions

the pathetic onion row

tomato in a burlap bag

red cabbage

super depressing. Planted cucumbers here and all of it has been eaten or got cooked by the sun.  :(






Chamomile with a liberal sprinkling of chickweed

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The new little family in town

We've had broody hens before, but never a rooster at the same time.  There have been bad experiences with roosters, and one of them became our chicken dinner after attacking both me and my son.  A while back, my friend gave us a little banty rooster who turned out to be very nice and not at all hostile.  This year, our little black Cochin/Silkie bantam cross chicken got broody and decided she would commandeer every egg laid in the henhouse and proceeded to sit.  I asked my many knowledgable friends about what to do.

It's important to isolate a broody hen so that others don't keep laying eggs in her clutch, and also so the other chickens don't hurt the chicks when they hatch.  So we moved the silkie into our dog crate in the garage, with a little plastic crate as her nest.  And she sat there for over 3 weeks, the gestation time of a chicken.  In that time, she once took a ride in my car to get baby goats disbudded (dehorned).  I didn't want to leave her alone in the garage while I used the dog crate to haul the baby goats, so she hitched a ride in the back seat.  Oh dear, but I was not prepared for the stink of the poop that a broody hen will make every few days after holding it in.  She let it go into the edge of her nesting box.  EWWWWWWW.  At least it was contained in there, but I learned about the true stench of broody chicken poo that day.

Eventually, the hen had sat for 21 days, then  22...then 23....then more.  And I knew the eggs weren't going to hatch.  They are supposed to hatch within 36 hours of one another, because once a chicken starts incubating them, that's when they begin to develop.  I gave her a 5 day window because I wasn't sure when she had started sitting.

So, before I sent her off with the other chickens, I had to check the eggs.  One by one, I cracked the eggs, only to have runny yellow yolks, not even stinky, flow out.  The rooster must not have fertilized them, and the hen mustn't have kept them very warm, because they should have stunk!

Within another week another hen was going broody!  I'm told this is rather rare, because modern chicken breeds have had the broodiness bred out of them.  I don't know whether our mama hen is a Barred Rock or a Marans...if anyone knows, feel free to set me right. (we do get some eggs that are dark, but we have many different types of chickens)

Anyhow, because I knew our rooster probably wasn't doing his job, I asked friends with roosters if they might spare some of their hens' eggs.  My friend Jill had 8 eggs from her Buff Orpington hens and rooster.  I'd get pure bred chickens if they hatched!  I was careful to leave them at room temperature, and then to put them beneath broody hen.  She took them!

She sat for 21 days.    Later in the month when I had to have the little buckling goat castrated, I decided to lock the dog on our back porch and left mama hen on a high shelf in the garage, alone on her nest.  She survived!  In the whole time she sat on her nest, she only got up very rarely to eat a bit of food, drink a tiny bit of water, and to make massive stinky poops.  At about 5 days gestation,  I candled the eggs with my flashlight, seeing nothing but the pores of some eggs.

A friend told me that it needs to be a SUPER bright light to be able to see anything when candling an egg.  So at 7 or 10 days gestation, I borrowed my father in law's kajillion candle flashlight and blasted light inside of those eggs.  Mama hen kept pecking me for my brazenness, so i wore a scarf wrapped around my wrist and distracted her with food.  There were 2 eggs that I could clearly see had a dark circle that moved and had veins going out from it.  Sorry, no pictures of that.  I was too afraid to kill them by messing with them, so I returned them to their mom.

At 21 days I checked the eggs in the morning.  There wasn't anything, but I could hear tiny cheeps coming from inside the eggs!  Later that afternoon we could see that we had a chicken hatching, and at least 3 others were just beginning to crack their eggs!  One was born that night.  By morning, there were six, and by that night we had 7!  I debated about whether to put a heat lamp on the babies, but mom was doing a great job and was being very nice to them, so I kept the dog crate in the house that night, just for my own sanity.  The pips and clucks from chick to hen were so distinct, they woke my husband!  The next day I felt confident enough to move them back into the garage.  

We moved the little family and the other 7 eggs  out of the plastic crate nest and onto some hay for bedding inside the crate.  I was worried the babies would fall out of the nest.  They settled in nicely, but I noticed the babies would eat when I put them on top of the chicken food.  Mama hen, however, was too busy sitting to show them what to do.  I waited until today to check the other eggs.  The first one exploded when I cracked it.  EW!  6 out of the remaining 7 eggs were duds, and those were all from our own chickens.  The seventh egg had a perfectly formed chick that must have died not long ago.  I guess the egg got pushed too far away from mom...I don't know.  I buried that chick and went inside.

Soon, Mama hen was up and drinking water and moving closer toward the food with her babies beneath her, peeking out from under her feathers every now and then.  It was a beautiful thing to see such a simple way of living play out just as God designed it.  I had never seen this, so I was just as awestruck as the kids.  The little girls ask me to see the baby chicks every hour of the day, so they are getting well visited.  Even the big kids seem humbled and peaceful holding such a fragile tiny life in their hands.  My heart is so happy right now with the fullness of being witness to something so simple but so extraordinary together as a family.

Momma hen concentrates as her babies hatch.  She plucks all the feathers from her chest, so that her skin has full contact with the eggs, then later the chicks, keeping them very warm.  She puffs herself up....maybe that makes her warmer?

the first chick has hatched!

Still wet

The kids hold the new babies
baby peeps out from beneath mama
teaching the babies to eat 

Enjoying the chickens in our neglected garage
She just got up from a nap and was uber excited
The seventh little chick surprises us