Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Dampened Day Off

It's raining -- and has been off and on since Sunday.  Thunder and lightening animated the night.  Steady drops have punctuated the morning.  Two inches since last evening. 

For more reasons than one, I am grateful.  In between showers yesterday we planted flower seedlings in the front bed, added more tomato seedlings to the garden,  replanted many of the brassicas that had been nibbled down to the dirt by unseen predators, and replanted several of the tomato plants that had been wholly uprooted by some scavenger hungry for the granulated molasses we had added to the fertilizer to help with the brix count.  To further sweeten the season we planted a few melon seeds, and of course weeded. 

As to that latter, we have only just begun.  We have made our way through less than half of the rows, and once that has been completed it will of course simply be time to begin again.  As to the former, we are grateful that the greenhouse still offered flats of leftovers from our winter seeding project that hadn't found room in the garden during the first round of planting.  We still have hopes for 20-30 of the remaining tomato plants, but something like 130 now have a garden home. 

There are odds and ends that still need attention.  Helpers next week will tie the tomato plants to supporting frames and will continue with the weeding.  Maybe they will help get sunflower seeds planted.  Certainly they will also help reconnoiter the perimeter to seal breaches in the fortifications.  I plan for them to replace a few worn out drip tapes in the irrigation system even while extending to a few additional rows.

But today it is raining and the irrigation is taking care of itself.  The plants are getting a healthy drink, the rain barrels are getting refilled, the chickens are staying dry while relaxing in their run, and I am taking a deep breath.  This is one of the crunch times in the garden that doesn't allow much opportunity for breathing.  If the primary work doesn't get done now it doesn't get done at all.  There are only so many days in the growing season in the upper midwest, and I can't afford to squander very many.  The plants need time to stretch their roots and spread their leaves not simply to produce good fruit but to grow as sturdy as possible before the onslaught of hungry pestilences both crawling and flying. 

It has taken awhile, but I have finally realized that vegetables are a lot like friends:  when you need them, it's too late to make them. 

It's with some sense of shame that I confess how poorly I act on that truth with my friends.  I'm trying to do better with the vegetables.  There is work to be done.  In the meantime, today I will enjoy the rain, the deep breath, and a good book.

And get back to the weeding tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

To Reach a Little Higher, Dig a Little Deeper -- or Simply Lay A Little Extra

It has been a 12-egg day.  Not bad, really -- especially in light of the ones preceding it.  This week has seen an oscillating escalation, from 9 on Sunday to 11 on Monday followed by 10 just yesterday.  An even dozen today seems like a natural progression. 

And I'll admit, there is something satisfying about a full carton.  I think it has only happened once before since we began this little hen house odyssey, and so I don't take the benchmark lightly.  Of course that prior harvest was even more of a celebration given that we had fewer chickens to produce the tally.  Now, with the four more recent arrivals commencing their contributions (I know this to be so because of the recent appearance of their smaller pullet eggs) and bringing our active number to 17, a "mere" dozen seems rather stingy.  I'm proud to a point, but only to that point.

Ironically, while mulling such muted enthusiasm, my friend Mike tags me on this Facebook photo that hit rather close to home.  It carried the caption, "chicken shaming."

Now, I think anyone who has been around our chickens, and been around me with our chickens, will attest that I am a pretty generous flock master.  I take seriously the "kindly tended" descriptor on the egg carton label.  I talk to the girls, I pick them up and cuddle them when they ask.  I brag about them to friends and strangers alike.  In lieu of grandkids I carry pictures of them on my phone and inflict photographic torture on anyone who pauses long enough for me to key in my security code.  I gush about the colors and the feather patterns, I recite the list of breeds as though it were a mantra.  Indulgent to a fault, I pamper and protect and attend religiously to their every need.  I even bought traps and, more than laughably, a .22-rifle to deal with any predators on the off-chance that I could retrieve the bullet from my shirt pocket, Barney Fife-like, in time to put it to any use.  I'm hardly a harsh or demanding overseer.

And I'm not asking for gratitude.  But really:  12?  I am compelled to arrive at this undeniable truth:  like the sign in the photo says, somebody out there is slacking and needs to kick it up a notch.  It's not my intention to resort to shaming or threats, but come on now.  We can reach for higher goals.  We can dig a little deeper.  I'm not expecting them to earn higher degrees or become doctors or lawyers or entrepreneurs.  Not even preachers. 

I'm simply looking for a few more eggs.   I don't think that's too much to ask.  So, get out there and lay one for the Gipper.

Whatever that means.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Prayers and a Season of Sleepless Nights

The truth is, despite their relative youth and diminutive size, the new little girls are a bad influence.  Oh, I know they look innocent enough, but don't let that shy appearance fool you.  Undeterred by the electric net fencing, they slip nonplussed between the strands out onto the grounds beyond to undertake a more literal free-ranging, unapologetic that the older, larger Iowa Blues with whom they share the annex are enticed to follow. 

We haven't had this problem before -- not leastwise, it's true, because we have generally started with older birds.  That said, the Blues arrived a month ago at precisely the same age and expressed no dissatisfaction with their habitat.  Until, that is, they were seduced by Welly and Amy -- the now 7-week old gift birds I received from friends as appreciation for my several months of off-farm work that are coming to an end.  I value the gift, but it is keeping me up at night.

There are, after all, predators out there.  Chickens, as more than one expert has pointed out, are the snack food of the food chain.  Everybody likes to eat chicken.  I certainly know that my electrified circumference is little enough deterrence for a determined raccoon or fox or coyote or, let's face it, anything else with an active appetite and a willing set of teeth.  But they don't have to make it easy. 

Like any adolescent sneaking out of the house when they think no one is looking, they are oblivious to the risks.  In thrall to the age-old delusion that "the worms are always longer on the other side of the fence," they slip the cords and scratch contentedly under the nearby tree.  So far, like a helicopter parent, I have found them soon enough and encouraged them homeward.  I can almost see them rolling their eyes at my hyper sense of precaution, but I can live with their disdain.  It's preferable to a mauled carcass. 

Eventually, I know, they will outgrow the opportunity.  In a matter of weeks their maturing girth will no longer permit such unsanctioned excursions.  In the meantime I am trying to make "home" a more appealing option by sprinkling scratch -- chicken candy, as it were -- more liberally around the coop.  It has the double advantage of enticing them to stick around and accelerating their weight gain.  In addition I'm going to encourage their older roommates to start exerting a more positive influence.  After all, it's their feathers in the game too.  It's time they started acting their age. 

Who am I kidding?  If I haven't yet started doing that -- a reasonably intelligent, well-educated and occasionally prudent adult -- why do I think it will happen with youthful chickens?

So, keep them in your prayers.  I'd like to see them live long enough to lay an egg or two.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Rain and, Perchance, a Nap

Gamed called on account of rain.
The garden game, that is.  I had a day otherwise planned.  Much of the planting has been accomplished, thanks in large part to the clergy group that convenes here once a month for a day long retreat spent elbow-deep in the metaphorical synergies of gardening, earth care and ministry.  Two months ago they helped create the soil blocks in which the early seeds germinated in the greenhouse.  Last week they moved many of those seedlings out from their sheltered environment and into the garden soil, planted potatoes and several varieties of seeds, prepared more soil, and fertilized.  Since then I have planted the remainder of the seeds, added a few rows, and just yesterday reassembled the irrigation system -- miles of feeder lines and drip tapes attached to a true "Rube Goldberg" hose-splitting contraption that brings it all to life.  It isn't completed.  With this year's various expansions I have ordered some additional parts required to connect every furrow, but it is essentially in place.

What remains are all the tomato plants, onions and peppers still nestled in greenhouse limbo, and then figuring out what I'm going to do with the hundreds of leftover brassicas for which I clearly, sadly, have no room.

My intent today had been to prepare the receiving spaces for the tomatoes.  With over 100 seedlings to plant, it's a sizable undertaking -- which is fine.  We are, after all, talking about tomatoes -- this year some 14 different varieties, mostly heirlooms, many of which are new to me:
Fargo Yellow Pear
Dakota Sport
Cherokee Purple
Amish Paste
Green Zebra
True Black Brandywine
Blue Berry
Kellogs Breakfast
Black Krim
Speckled Roman
Brandywine Suduth's Strain
Mexico Midget
Black Plum

Those, plus a few Green Husk Tomatillos.

It's hard to have too many tomatoes.

At present they are all standing tall in their 32-ounce convenience store soda cups into which they were moved for further root development when they outgrew their soil blocks.  They have spent some hours in recent days soaking up the sun just outside the greenhouse, hardening off, but I can tell they are anxious to move into the home they have never known; settling in and reaching deeply into the soil.  The tomatoes, but also their spicier counterparts still languishing alongside them on the shelves.

But it's raining -- and supposedly will be all day.  A half-inch already since it started sometime before dawn.  We could see another inch by sunset if the predictions are on track.  I don't really mind.  The rain barrels need topping off, and the trees are almost certainly thirsty.  The garden, in general, can use a good and deep drink, and the flowers certainly aren't complaining.  Neither do the chickens seem inconvenienced, harvesting as they are a bumper crop of worms.  For my part, however, I think I'll make other, drier plans for the day -- some reading, perhaps, long-neglected, or whittling down the mountainous piles crowding my office.

Or maybe, if I'm not careful, a nap.
Hmmm.  Maybe the rain will continue tomorrow as well.