The Chicken Conundrum: Part 2

I woke this morning to the sound of rain. It was still dark. I did not immediately remember the small rug I had hung out over the back-deck railing last night because it had gotten wet from the leaking (unbeknownst-to-me-turned-off) freezer – it is surely wetter now. I did not remember the itty-bitty splinters in my hands from when the front porch was wet (and a bit icy) yesterday morning and I had slipped and caught myself by reaching for the rough cedar siding of the house. Instead my mind flashed to the chickens – dry in their coops now, but not for long!

Bedraggled is the best word for them when they have been standing in the rain, seemingly oblivious to it, for even a short while. I can provide them a palatial coop, I can make sure they have space under it to escape nasty weather, but I cannot keep them from getting wet.

Do you see the beginning of what was already a bad hair day starting to get worse? This photo, taken on another wet day back when the leaves were still green, shows the clumps and points and spikes beginning. In the rain, the silkie’s crown of fluffy feathers gets clumpier and clumpier, pointier and pointier, spikier and spikier and ultimately flatter and flatter. Hey, that’s my crown you’re talking about!silkie9.18 (2) beginning of bad hair day.jpg

No offense, Missy, but there’s not a lot of brain in your fluffy head.

Then I opened my phone and saw Claudia’s thoughtful response to my recent Banishment-Harassment Conundrum post. Regarding what to do with Goldyneck, my black copper maran that unmercifully harasses the silkies in her coop, was banished therefrom and subsequently reunited with the smaller hens, Claudia wrote:

Great observation and great metaphor for social analysis. Analogies help us think, they unfold a truth and point out connecting and turning points. But at one point a chicken stays a chicken and a human being – convicted or not – is a human being with the ability to think, feel and change if that human being recognizes a need to change plus receives the needed support. That is the pedagogy and assumption in me. Chickens on the other hand follow their instincts. Goldyneck will be at the lowest level in her new society until someone newer and weaker than her joins. If you keep her at her new place much longer – guess what – I think she will be the new one again and start from the lowest position. Sociology. No logical thinking patterns in chickens, no rational thinking just instincts, NO empathy. That’s where the original analogy ends and where we need to look for a new one that helps us think further and put our findings into understanding. How about a heart: We as humans have the ability to feel and build emotions in various contexts. Chickens don’t have that part – they “feel” pain because of their neural system but they are missing the emotional heart.
Thank you for making us think!

To which I say:

On the contrary, my friend — you are the one making us think.

Any analogy we make (including the one I had made comparing chickens to humans) goes only so far. Always, always, let us remember that behind every statistic, behind every story, there are individuals who act in certain ways in part because they are genetically programmed that way (we breathe to get air into our bodies, we run from fire because we naturally self-preserve) and in part because it’s what we individually want (for dinner, say) or what we thought would be the best course of action (such as quitting a job or choosing a mate). The thinking part distinguishes us from our feathered friends.

Chickens lean heavily, almost exclusively, toward the actions that are genetically programmed (pick on the little guy to establish pecking order). The image of Goldyneck being excluded from the watermelon circle,

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watching the others play out the who-invited-you? scenario, kept coming back to me, indeed weighed on me. In sixth grade – I remember it as if it were yesterday, there we were in the elementary school gym – as I myself attempted to merely stand with a small group of girls (I was not trying to share the watermelon!), those were the words I heard: “Who invited you?”

Unlike Goldy, who in her chicken-ness is alone but probably clueless as to why, I, being human, felt the pain of that exclusion. It reached my emotional heart and lodged there and over time turned into an understanding of human pecking order, as real as chicken pecking order, and a bristling within myself whenever I see anything that resembles this kind of behavior practiced maliciously.

But as emotionally challenging as my own experience was back then, my ability to reflect/think/reason kicked in regarding Goldyneck. She is never going to learn. And as Claudia so beautifully pointed out, all her relocation will accomplish is simply a different pecking order. Within hours of posting the first conundrum blog I came to this same conclusion, and I put Goldyneck back where she had started, with her Bridge Club, among her silkie girlfriends.

They’ll work it out, I said to myself. In their primitive way, the silkies will find a way to hold their own — as by extension, all of us who are deemed “lesser” somehow will do with whatever emotional and social capacities we have (or don’t have) naturally within us or (let us hope) we have developed over time. There will always be those who are bigger, stronger, more powerful, more strategically placed — and more bent on asserting such. It has never been otherwise, and never will be. We all simply do the best we can with what we have wherever we are. Or at least we should be trying to do the best we can. Regarding How to think and How to feel – let us never imagine that we have arrived at the pinnacle of either, but always know we have a ways to go in improving both.

Upon approaching the coop this morning as daylight increased and rain slackened, I observed the Bridge Club – the smaller chickens just waiting to be let out, curious about me on the other side of the wire. Goldyneck was among them, waiting too, curious too, behaving as you would hope, minding her own business.

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I went around to the other side and opened the egg door. She was the first one out, loaded with energy, scuttling around on her two funny feet. Then didn’t she find a silkie to peck!! She comes up from behind and grabs hold of the feathers on the back of the silkie and pulls a bit. For no apparent reason! This poor thing, the one we call Spot, was the harassed one this time, but she managed to distance herself and find a place of peace under the coop. (Do note her dry head at this time — they had emerged just minutes ago from the coop.)

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The way of the world is not so nice sometimes, but she found her corner. We all find our corners. Goldyneck continued to traipse around the run, but for as long as I stayed out there refilling food and water, she didn’t bother any of her coop-mates again. Who knows what moves her to annoy the others? Who knows why she stops? There are some things you cannot know, some things to just leave alone (until she gets my dander up again!).

When I returned an hour later – after the rain had started up again, after the not-overly-bright birds had stood in it for a while, I saw the natural outcome of small brains + rainy weather. As Sandy so aptly remarked: Punk is alive and well 😊

Hey, that’s my crown you’re talking about!

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The Chicken Banishment-Harassment Conundrum

Pecking order is a very real thing. What should I do with a bully chicken that has been unmercifully pecking the silkies recently? This is the question of the day. I gave the offender, Goldyneck, time-out by putting her in the coop with the big girls, and I know very well that her brain is miniscule and will not in any way connect her new location to her crime. I also know that the tables have turned and she is the one now subject to bullying, shunning and other downsides of her present banishment.

For example, I had a small watermelon in the fridge that sadly I had not been able to get to last week, and it was a bit soft. You don’t want soft watermelon, to say nothing of the vague strangeness of eating watermelon in November, which I could handle better if the fruit were not bordering on mushy. But the combination of too-soft plus nip-in-the-air put me over the edge and the watermelon went to the chickens.

Clearly Miss Goldyneck is being left out here. C’mon, girlfriends, let me have some!

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She circled around and tried to come at it from the other side.

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Forget it, sister. No one invited you. They are not making room for her, no way. Finally she gave up and walked away.

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Not only that. I went in later to give them some other food – fabulous picked chicken carcasses that my local deli manager ok’d me taking home. (I was at the deli and saw that they had pulled the meat off the rotisserie chickens for chicken salad. Those carcasses were just sitting there… I asked for them and they kindly gave them to me and my mother said, “You have no shame.” I said My chickens will love this stuff! They will pick every possible bit of what’s edible off these bones! It’s protein. They eat bugs!)

Anyway, I went in to give them a portion of these bones that I brought home and didn’t see Goldyneck. A slight moment of panic was followed by a glimpse of black feathers.

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No, she wasn’t dead, she was hiding under the coop. I scattered the carcass bones such that she could get to some of them without problem. There was enough to go around. (Thank you, my deli manager!) My poor offender got some, no doubt.

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You don’t know what it’s like for me! These monster chickens are always bothering me! Save me! (So I can go back to bothering the silkies!)

Are you feeling sorry for her yet? Part of me does, I admit. But I am torn. This is the same chicken who was harassing my silkies in the other coop. While saving the silkies from harassment, I am subjecting the harasser – who has no capacity to see reason – to the same. In protecting victims, I create a victim. The obvious parallels to our human prison systems do not escape me.

Chances are also good that in the silkies are now being harassed by the second most aggressive chicken in the Bridge Club, who is relieved that Goldyneck is gone so she can practice her own techniques. I might not have made anything better. I don’t know if this is true, but it could be, and I will continue to watch this drama unfold.

Last night I went to check on them after dark and found the shunning continuing. There she is, by herself, under the roosting ledge, alone in the world!shunned 2_LI (2).jpg

There are no easy answers to this situation, but your thoughts are appreciated. I don’t know what to do!

Chicken Time-Out

It isn’t every day you get mad at a chicken. But today, on this cold Thanksgiving morning (32F), while other people are already basting the birds in their ovens, I was trying to discipline one in my coop. I had to – again! – put Goldyneck in time-out. Do chickens learn? Will she cease and desist her bullying if she gets a taste of her own medicine?

Probably not. Like people, chickens are who they are, and some of them are nastier, pushier, more aggressive. Some are meek and go about their own business and don’t randomly peck other chickens on the back! I have never been able to tolerate a bully.

This is the culprit.

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She’s very pretty. The chicks we got in March included this one, a mix – part silkie, part black copper maran – and no other chicken I have has visible traits of both. You see the bad hair day going on – though not as bad as the silkies – on top of her head. And of course the shiny black feathers of the maran, though hers are fluffier than the other marans.

Goldyneck does not pick on the other marans. They are bigger than she is, being pure maran (her silkie half means she is smaller). The other day I caught her pecking at a silkie. In particular she was pecking at One-Eye, the silkie we almost lost to an eye infection when she was just a few weeks old. Bullying is bad enough, but bullying the weakest among her group was too much for me. I’ll show her a thing or two about bullying.

I banished her. I did not go so far as to relocate her to the woods – I’d have to be really mad for that. But I put her into the other coop I call the Sewing Circle because they almost all have distinctive feathers circling their necks. Here she would have to mix with the brahmas, Rhode Island reds, cinnamon queens and the lone old gray auracana – all of which are bigger than the marans. I wondered what would happen.

Sure enough, a few hours later I came out to bring some scraps to them, and all the Sewing Girls came toward the door, eager to see what I might bring. Goldyneck was right there with them, but the space there is tight. She is smaller and was closest to the door, closest to me, and within seconds not one, not two, but three of her coop-mates gave her a peck on the back – a very clear signal. Move, sister! Move to the back of the line! You do not rate the front of the line! Back she went!

Later, when all had put themselves to bed after dark, I went to check on them. Another form of you-do-not-rate was in effect – shunning! Here she is, farthest back, apart from the rest. Hanging her head no less!!

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I let her spend the night in this purgatory and in the morning decided she could rejoin the Bridge Club, her own group so named because most of them are bantams (smaller breeds of chickens). B for Bantam. B for Bridge Club. (Sewing Circles and Bridge Clubs are both groups of ladies, and we must differentiate. We must help our brains with tricks!)

I was hopeful, as I am ever hopeful, with most things, though a friend did say Chickens Don’t Learn. A full day went by. I was busy and did not spend much time in close observation. I was busy enjoying my cottage guests who were enjoying my chickens. How it thrills me when people – especially young people – hold them, watch them, have fun. The silkies are especially docile and love to be picked up. Okay, maybe loved is too strong a word. They graciously tolerate it. Most of the time.

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Then this morning, immediately upon letting the Bridge Club out of their house/palace, didn’t Goldyneck immediately start pecking on a silkie! It got my dander up, so I moved her again. She was clearly confused. In this image, she is perhaps appealing to the marans on the other side of the barrier fence in her own chicken way.

Hey, how come I’m over here and y’all are over there? Wait, this isn’t right. I’m all alone!

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Not for long. Surely having heard the hullabaloo, the Sewing Circle then woke up.

Oh, no, here they come. Help!

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It wasn’t long before they started showing her whose space this is. First a red, then a brahma. The pecking happens really fast – definitely a peck-and-run technique – so these images, blurred as they are, will have to suffice in showing what I mean. Better move!

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Goldyneck tried to get out of the way, but she stuck close to the fence that divides her from the chickens she would love to be with/dominate. The reds are after me! Do something! Then she turned around and a brahma gave her that proverbial taste of her own medicine. Gotcha!

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Generally I am a tender-hearted person, and I am aware that this action of mine may forever affect your impression of me. The good and the bad will be weighed, and then someone will say Yes, but remember that time she left that poor chicken in with the big girls! But let it be understood that I also removed the offending chicken from those she was bullying! And then I walked away. I did. We will see what happens….

A Silkie Walks the Plank

Finish the coop, for crying out loud! Then we’ll go in!

This, possibly, is what half of my chickens were thinking for the past four months. I know it’s unlikely. The MO of chickens in general does not include much thinking. But I stand firm with the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, firm in believing impossible things, especially before breakfast.

           “Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

            “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

In any case, they finally – most of them, most of the time – go into the finished coop at night.  Yes, it’s finished. We put the chop saw away.

Possibly now that it’s colder the birds are further incentivized – it was 39F when I went out before breakfast this morning. The half of my chickens that I refer to is my Bridge Club — the silkies, d’uccle and black copper marans. (The Sewing Circle – the old auracana, Rhode Island reds, cinnamon queens and brahmas – have gone into their own coop at night from the start, though possibly the old girl led them.)

What’s funny is watching the Bridge Club come out in the morning. As I approach the coop area, I see them through the large window on the side. Do you? That’s Miss D’uccle standing front and center.

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As I get closer, I see her competing for the window space with a black copper maran in front of her and a silkie behind her.

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To let them out, I lift the door that slides up and down behind the egg door by way of a string attached to an eye hook inside.

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They’ve seen me. They hear me. They are waiting with bated breath.

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C’mon! Hurry up!

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Out! Freedom!

They can hardly get out fast enough. In a matter of seconds they are out the door and on the ground. They don’t go down the ramp. They jump off the platform with wings out. They land. They keep going. Move, sister!

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Hey, I was first!

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We’re coming too!

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All except for one.

One white silkie is not so sure. She does this every day. Hey, where’d y’all go?! It’s really quite cozy in here. Can’t we stay in a while longer?

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Again today, she stayed and thought about it. She shuffled. She hemmed. She hawed.

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Finally she ventured. Sort of.

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The others were by now busy fanning forth, finding food, feeling fine, facing fate, flaunting feathers, fluttering fancifully, forgiving faults, fostering friendships and formulating fragments of fowl facts for future fame.

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Not Whitey. She’s still fearing, fussing, fretting, frowning. Fully two minutes after the others impatiently poured out, she finally stuck her head out. The following photos show the next two more solid minutes that it took her to get to the bottom.

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But it’s cold out here!

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Fine. All right. If I have to.

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But I’m telling you, I don’t want to. Why can’t we just stay inside?? Oh, seriously, now you want me to walk this plank!

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Are you kidding? I’m going to break my neck!

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Okay, I’m coming. See, I’m two steps down already. Don’t rush me!

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I told you, I’m coming. Hold your horses. Save me some food. I’m coming…

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This is the bottom. Almost. Now I suppose I have to keep going. Bother this daytime routine. Hmmm. Anything interesting happening over there? Yeah, don’t worry, I can see it from here just fine.

Oh, wait. Do you think I’m sexy? What about if I stretch out my neck like this?

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No, no, I’m not posing. I’m not in any way enjoying the attention I’m getting from the human who keeps clicking something. I’m just thinking about my next move. I’m just showing my sisters how it’s done, how you make a grand entrance, how you show the world you’re worth waiting for.

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What are you looking at?

It’s not so easy, you know, being me.

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I could step onto that straw right now if I wanted to. I just don’t want to. Not yet. What’s the big deal about straw?

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Why am I a chicken? How did I draw the straw to become a chicken? I should be a princess. Then they would listen to me. This chicken business is not really fun. Bugs again we get for food. Corn. Leftovers here and there. Okay, the cantaloupe yesterday was nice, I admit. More fresh fruit would be good. More lobster! Where’s the lobster??

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You have yourself a nice day! I’m going to go get my breakfast now.

A Dead Man and a Pipe

When you want to make a barrier, you have to make it strong. Sometimes you have to use a dead man to hold it fast, to make it stronger than it would be otherwise. Before today, I did not know how to do this. Before today, “dead man” had only one meaning for me. But now I am confident I understand when it makes good sense to use another kind of dead man.

I was up late last night listening to the rain falling on the newly graded front yard that was not yet finished. Joe had said a little rain wouldn’t hurt anything and would in fact make that loose soil more compact, but I worried anyway. I’d spent $500 to rent the mini-excavator for the weekend and wanted full use of it. No rain allowed! No daytime rain anyway.

I woke up raring to go, thinking we’d get as far as digging post holes for the front porch today. I made a bacon/spinach/swiss cheese quiche to have for lunch while waiting for the guys to get here. Sandy and I then started with moving some liriope and rocks from around the big oak tree. When you move a big rock, there are often lots of bugs underneath it. A feast for a silkie! I went and got one lucky chicken. Oh, how we amuse ourselves!

 

This is One-Eye, the hen we thought we lost when she had an eye infection as a very young chick. She did not like the 4x-daily eye dropper with antibiotic, I can tell you. And she looked quite sickly for a while. But she lives and she hunts and she pecks!

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Our entertainment for today also included a native creature, Mr. Toad.

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We got the brilliant idea that Mr. Toad would like to meet Miss Silkie. This did not work out so well. She took one look at him and

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turned the other way. They weren’t the slightest bit interested in one another. You can tell from her dirty face that she has been enjoying bugs in the dirt though!

This photo gives a better idea of today’s work area. The stick laying down on the dirt between the tree and the house is where the new porch will come to, 6 feet out from the house.

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After Joe came, he got on his Tonka Toy and played with dirt for a while, moving it here and there, compacting it, preparing the place where we would put a retaining wall. There is no way we would have accomplished what we did today without Joe, without this machine and without Joe’s skill on this machine.

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Because of the slope of the land and the driveway going down along the side of the house, a retaining wall is necessary. Five 12’ 6×6 pressure treated pieces of lumber would do the trick; anyway Lowe’s didn’t have any railroad ties. The first piece we put in, perpendicular to the house from the corner, we had to move. The porch is going to come out from the corner, and you can’t dig a post hole and pour concrete into it if you have a retaining wall there. So we moved it a foot or so inward, closer to where Joe is on the machine.

Once the first 6×6 was in, level and squared to the house, it was time for the second layer, including (the moment you’ve been waiting for!) the dead man! Why is it called a dead man? Your guess is as good as mine, but that’s the name for a long, buried object used as an anchor in constructing walls. It will keep it from leaning when the weight of earth, especially wet earth, pushes against it. The dead man goes back twice as far as you see; Joe got busy covering it in dirt before I could snap a photo.

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In our case the dead man is part of the second layer of the wall next to a short length of perforated pipe. We put screening across the back end of the pipe; the whole thing will be covered in gravel tomorrow, then landscape fabric, then dirt, and will help carry water away from this area. The pipe was a little taller than the wood, so Sandy used the heat gun to soften the plastic just enough for it to press down under the weight of the third layer.

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Each layer was secured to the one beneath it by use of timberlocks, which are long, heavy screws that sink into the wood so the next layer can lay flat on top.

By level four we were moving quickly both because we could robotically drill-timberlock-drill-timberlock all the way down the line and because my cottage guests had returned and were building a fire in their fire pit and I was worried our noise would disturb them. Drills are loud. But they kindly said it was all fine and asked a lot of questions later about the project. That was nice!

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We decided that five levels would be enough. It’s way more than was there before, and has a drain, which the old wall didn’t have either.

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Next we will fill in the gravel over the pipe, finish grading and dig post holes!! I know (I know!) it’s not normal to get excited about mixing concrete, but in my mind I can see what each step leads to – a beautiful new front porch! – and this makes it very exciting.

I’m not saying I don’t also get a thrill from seeing the incremental changes one by one, from digging shovelfuls of dirt, checking if the board is level, bearing down on timberlocks to get them through the wood (though I wished I was stronger for that task!) and learning about dead men. I do. I love having stared at this area for a long time, wishing there was a nice porch, and now watching it become a reality. I get to not only see the transformation, but also to work alongside and help make it happen. I am so grateful and happy that I am not just watching. For me the same thing happens when a tennis tournament is on TV. I can watch it for about five minutes and then I want to get out and play!

And By September…

The geese are calling to each other in their southward journey. The chill in the air made me put on a long-sleeved shirt this morning. My toes are asking for booties. Claudia is making amazing apple strudel. It must be September!

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Yesterday the sun shone and the sky was blue-blue for the first time in a while – all grave danger of hurricane Florence seeming to have stayed distant and now passed. Maybe the rain we did get helped my property look especially splendorous to me recently, or maybe it’s that I’m going away to visit my children and grandbabies and therefore am imprinting images with especial effort. In any case, I am struck with awe not only at the beauty around me, but also at how things have grown by September.

First and foremost, I have never seen coleus get so huge, let alone in my own planter boxes! Planted in April (the ones toward the back with the multi-colored leaves), by June my show-offs looked like this:

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By July:

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Relocated because of the upcoming Big Dig, and placed next to each other, they now look like this:

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Happy plants, to be sure! Perhaps the chrysanthemum is in competition with the coleus. It is a holdover from last year, having survived not only the winter but also being transplanted to a new box. It is close to bursting into color, though I will miss the peak I expect.

This was in May. You can hardly see it, but just in front of the beets, closest to the seat on the end of the box, that’s the mum.

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By last week, Mums Gigantus!

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And today. The bursting of color begins!

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The scarlet flame caladium doesn’t get as much sun and has not even trebled in size, but its colors are glorious.

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Speaking of glorious, this butterfly has a most amazingly delicate transition from blue to black on its wings.

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Fall seems a good time for spots of color. The marigolds were also gigantic this year, as is clear in this photo with Rise about six weeks ago:

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But their splendor is perhaps best appreciated up close.

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The lemon grass also went crazy, but no crazier than usual. I gave it its own bed this year.

Here it is in May, just planted (foreground bed).


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And in June.

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And today. You can’t even see its bed!

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You almost wonder what’s lurking inside there!

What’s lurking is the same thing that’s lurking inside them all – life! Here we are, every one of us, with life and beauty all around us, a gazillion different examples, we and they all enjoying moments, catch as catch can, in the sun, in the rain, no matter the situation. If we have open hearts, beauty will make itself clear at almost every turn.

Lobster Yolks

On Labor Day I went to a Lobster Fest and came home with three bags full of claws, heads, bodies, guts and other assorted lobster leftovers. I give everybody who comes – no, not lobster leftovers! – I give all family and friends and all cottage guests the chickens-eat-everything spiel, so I put it to the test. Will chickens eat lobster? You bet they will!

(For future reference, do note the color of the lobster shell.)

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Let’s be reasonable though, one bag at a time. If I hadn’t been worried about how long it would take leftover lobster to start stinking up my downstairs fridge, tightly tied up though the bags were, I might have allotted half a bag at a time. But a predetermined plan to do that wouldn’t have mattered. By the time I emptied half the bag, I knew they’d get it all. The chickens in most cases get super excited when you give them food (any food will do!) and that keeps you giving them more and more if you can. Poor babies – you’d think they were half-starved the way they beg! Plus, the bag is icky and all you want to do is finish giving the Sewing Circle half the bag and the Bridge Club the other half, and then throw that bag away!

Yes, Sarah, thank you – I love your names for my two groups of hens. Traditionally, ladies sewed in small circles and ladies formed clubs to play bridge together, and my hens are ladies. Besides the eggs that put them in the female camp, I can call them ladies because they are mostly quiet but sometimes squawk, they walk gracefully around thinking/knowing/showing how beautiful they are and they tend to form little groups or clubs among themselves (and not always for benign purposes but sometimes, like Wives of Atlanta or Wives of New York, to establish and maintain pecking order, which is not always pretty, thus the fence between the two groups!). And some of them, like my silkies, are having a bad hair day every day. You may recall.

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I like Sewing Circle for the brahmas, cinnamon queens, Rhode Island reds and the lone araucana (old Miss Gray) – the white ones to the left in the first photo – because some of them (the brahmas and the cinnamon queens) have distinctive darker feathers on their heads like a hood, which makes a kind of circle around their necks. I like Bridge Club for the silkies, black copper marans and lone d’uccle because some of them (the silkies and the d’uccle) are in that distinct grouping of chickens called Bantams (lightweights). My brain, along with everything else it remembers and processes, can make short work of Sewing Circle: circle and Bridge Club: Bantam. I think it’s brilliant.

As previously blogged, the Sewing Circle dove into the first round of lobster leftovers with a vengeance, but the Bridge Club was strangely reluctant. It’s all the same to me. Who am I to say that anyone or any chicken should eat lobster or some other decadent, succulent, protein-rich food? Chickens love bugs. They hunt all day for them, prize them, devour them. And what is a lobster but a big, waterbound bug?

But I think the Bridge Club came around. In fact, I have the idea that one chicken lorded it (ladied it??) over the others and got the lion’s share of the meat, and the guilty party is Miss D’uccle. Here she is. Does that look like a face you want to mess with?

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Why do I think this? Miss D’uccle is small, the smallest of the smalls. This does not stop her from being possibly the most obnoxious of all the birds, yakking all day long. I sometimes remind her that I ousted the roosters on account of their noise! Nonetheless she is a contributing member of the flock, though it stands to reason that she would also lay the smallest of the eggs. Can you pick out which one is hers?

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That’s right, it’s the whitish one near the top next to that speckled one. That’s some variety of color, size and speckledness, no? I think they are so beautiful!

For the contrast, I broke the huge whitish one first (it is actually pale greenish, but my lighting is poor and doesn’t make the subtle difference clear). Then I broke the d’uccle egg. Guess who’s been hogging the lobster! Or maybe just got more than her share?

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I broke three or four more eggs, all of which were more orange that the huge one but none as orange as Miss D’uccle’s. When beat up, however, they made this rich color. You hardly ever see the likes of that when you are about to scramble eggs. (I promise I did not retouch this photo – I’m lucky I know how to insert them!)

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Now I ask you – are my chickens eating better than most chickens? Better than the chickens whose eggs you eat? Granted, lobster for dinner is a rarity, especially for chickens. But we take what we get and I took the lobster. Kinda makes me want to ask for more leftovers, whatever they might be…

Picky Chickens

I have had chickens for a grand total of almost ten years and today I saw something new. Let me back up.

Chickens love to eat. They eat all day long. They are forever scratching around looking for a bug or some crumb they missed the hundred other times they scratched in that spot. When I worked at the hotel I brought them buckets of carrot peels, old bread, cheese ends gone hard, table scraps, slightly wilty lettuce. Whatever the cooks had that would otherwise have gone in the food trash, they put in a five-gallon bucket for me to bring to my chickens. I had the best-fed and happiest chickens ever. I never saw the hens refuse anything that remotely looked green or like protein except what they physically could not manage, like the woody ends of asparagus or broccoli. Those they left. Everything else they devoured.

I went to a lobster fest today. Lobster, mussels, sausage, corn on the cob, salad, watermelon, amazing desserts. While we were making a mess with the lobsters and people were starting to finish up their plates and put them toward the center of the round table, I remembered my chickens. Wouldn’t they love this?

The manager ok’d it, so I went home with three bags full of leftovers. I thought the chickens would pick incessantly at those lobster shells for any remnant of meat left in them – same as they would with a chicken bone (sad but true), a t-bone or a pork chop bone. Some of them did! Good, normal chickens these are.

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But some of them didn’t!

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The silkies walked away, the d’uccle walked away, the black copper maran just looked at it.

Who rejects lobster?? Colonial prisoners protested, this we know. No, not lobster again! It’s true. Back in the day, way, way back in the day, when people committed crimes on Cape Cod and were put into prison, they were fed the cheapest, most abundant food, which at that time was lobster. Apparently the waters teemed with the meaty crustaceans. Lobster was like junk. After a while, the prisoners wanted something else – understandable to me because I’m not exactly a lobster fan myself (the salmon today was delicious!), but that’s not the point! These are chickens! They eat anything!

In the meantime, I do think I have some very grateful DEER! At dinnertime, two deer were grazing close to the house on the same side as the watermelon graveyard!

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Do you see them? I watched, tried to take decent photos from inside so as not to scare them (but failed, I know, on account of the screen and the window between us) and then my heart jumped as the young buck on the right headed straight for the graveyard!

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He must have smelled the rinds I pitched there earlier. (Sandy wanted to take a picture of me doing this, and did, well before the deer came along, meaning I did not expect to be glad for this picture!)

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I’ll see what’s left of the lobster when I go check the chickens tomorrow. Maybe the ones who rejected it just had to warm to the idea. Maybe just before I arrived with my gift to them, they had just found a massive stash of fresh bugs and were full. We’re full and watching out waistlines. Maybe later we’ll pick at the lobster… Maybe they don’t see what the fuss is all about. Lobster, so what? Maybe they realized instantly that it’s soooo decadent they have to eat it in private. No one’s looking, right? I can eat my lobster now??

I wonder what I’ll find…

Pink Hands

I love the story of the Little Red Hen. You know the one where the hardworking and foresightful Hen goes through the steps of growing wheat. She asks three other animals on the farm – the Cat, the Pig and the Duck in the version I remember – to help her plant a grain of wheat she found. She says, “Who will help me plant the seed?”

“Not I,” said the Cat. “Not I,” said the Pig. “Not I,” said the Duck.

So she does it herself. She continues to ask for help with harvesting, threshing, milling and baking, and the other animals continue to refuse to help. Finally the bread is ready to be eaten and they sure do want to help with that! Too bad! They didn’t want to help with the work, so they don’t get to enjoy the reward. The Hen shares the bread with her happy chicks.

Today was Harvest Day at Golden Hill. The beets and carrots have been doing what garden vegetables generally do if you leave them alone. (Anyone who has harvested a baseball-bat zucchini can relate!) I just didn’t get to it before now, can’t imagine why. But the beets had pushed themselves pretty much out of the ground and the carrot tops had dried up.

Here are the beets in their bed in May, in June and today:

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And the carrots in their bed in May, in June and today:

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See what I mean? I’m an amateur in the garden, but this I know: It’s time to harvest. And I had little girls happily helping me!

First we did the carrots because you have to pull harder. Little girls get tired, so let’s do the somewhat harder thing first and save the easier task for later. I loosened the soil and exposed those gorgeous orange tubers.

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Eppie didn’t want to get her hands dirty with pulling carrots, so Rise helped with this. Eppie put them in the box. Well, some of them. She found other interesting things to look at in the garden, including two worms. I wonder sometimes if some children never get to touch real worms…

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How fun it was for Rise to pull up some pretty big ones!

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Eppie was more impressed with one that was curled. And with the ants whose home we evidently disturbed. “Look, sister!”

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The ants were none too happy but they will figure it out.

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We got two boxes full of carrots, smoothed the dirt for the next planting, and said Wow! as we looked at our harvest. Rise said we should make carrot soup for dinner. We’ll see about that, but how wonderful that she is not only helping but also thinking about what to make with them.

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Onward to beets. So much easier. You don’t have to pull at all, but practically just lift them out of their nice bed,

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and twist off the green leafy part (that’s for the chickens).

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Beets are fun. Look what you get besides beets – pink hands!

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I like making little girls happy. I like making chickens happy. Look at the box of greens behind the box of beets! I know we could eat the greens too, but you have to draw the line somewhere. All those lovely beets make me so happy I can let the greens go.

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The chickens were soon very happy!

Well, each in their turn. The photo below shows the brahmas, cinnamon queens and Rhode Island Reds, which I have been lately calling Group A – will someone please help me come up with a name for this group?! They got theirs first – the beet greens and a few tomatoes that the garden turtle (remember him?) chewed off half of because they were lying on the ground because someone (I wonder who) didn’t get around to staking up the tomatoes very high either.

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See the silkies and black copper marans (Group B for Bantam?) looking through the dividing wire, longing for theirs. Hey, where’s ours? Patience, patience!

Ah! Good things come (usually) to those who wait. The chickens like the tomatoes better than the greens. But I guarantee that those greens won’t last long either.

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I think I never had a harvest of beets and carrots like this. Never so many. How blessed am I to share the experience with these lovely young ladies! Later in the week we might plant some more carrots and beets in these beds so that there will be a fall harvest. Something tells me I’ll have two good helpers!

 

 

Finally! Eggs and Crape Myrtles

When you know something is going to happen and you really want it to happen but you’re not quite sure when it’ll happen, you get really excited when it finally does happen! It was a good week for things that have been in that almost-zone to get into the it-finally-happened zone. First the starter eggs. Then the crape myrtles.

It’s super exciting that the hens, now about five months old, have started laying! Kaileena found the first one in the brooding box when she was here and came running to tell me. “You have to come see!” Starter eggs are small and have soft shells. To find one unbroken is quite something. I think the hen can hardly stand up from laying it without cracking that shell. When we picked this small one up, it was broken underneath. See the size difference? The regular size egg on the left is a fake, placed there to train the birds where to lay.

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The second starter egg that came was just as soft. I got it into the house intact, but before I could take a photo of it next to a real, regular size egg, I had cracked the shell. You can see how the soft shell is also dented.

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It won’t take long before the eggs that come are normal size and filling up my bin (fast!). In the meantime Coco gets a treat. They say eggs make a dog’s coat glossy. I don’t see how hers could be glossier:

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but she is so happy for an egg, however small, that I don’t care about gloss.

I have been in this house for more than seven years, and from the very beginning I have wanted to have crape myrtles somewhere on the property. If you are not from Virginia, you might not be familiar with this glorious tree. When mine are fully mature, they will look something like this. Crape myrtles bloom all summer and remind you that even when things look dark, there is beauty in the world.

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It will take years for my trees to gain this height, but rain was in the forecast. When rain is in the forecast, it can be very motivating. When you have a trip coming up and will not be home for a few days, and there’s rain in the forecast, it’s super motivating. Especially for planting things. Crape myrtles were on sale this past week. Guess what I did.

Yup. The trees will be great in front of the garden fence along the driveway. Here is what that space looked like at 7am when it was already misting.

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I can dig in the mist. Bless my children for having churned up this soil six or seven years ago to make the garden. Because of their work, I encountered no roots when digging. Just clay, but I expected that.

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You can’t plant a beautiful young tree in this stuff. Well, you can, but you don’t want to. It’s best for the tree if you dig each hole about each twice as deep and twice as wide as the tree ball. I cut pieces of cheap landscape fabric to put the clay on (it’s hard to call it dirt!) so I would have it to mound around the tree later.

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I dug three holes. As digging goes, this was not bad, nor did it take very long. Spacing them was easy. The fence posts were the right distance apart to allow for the 15-foot canopy there will be, and I dug the holes about eight or ten feet out from the fence posts.

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Into the holes I put chopped up leaf matter and some good compost mixed with the red clay. The leaves will break down and add nutrients later, the compost will add nutrients now, and the clay was there in the first place and can’t be all bad. How the early farmers in Virginia managed with this stuff, I have no idea.

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I broke apart the roots that were bound up in the pot (no wonder these were on sale) and introduced the tree to its new home.

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In the rest of the hole I put more leaf matter and compost and finally all that clay that was on the landscape fabric waiting patiently. This made a good mound around the tree but as the leaves decompose, it will settle.

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One at a time, till all three were in. Then mulch. Then water from the hose because all the while it still just misted. Then finished! Not till an hour or so later did the rain come. And I smiled. I think my crape myrtles are going to love their place of prominence. I didn’t get these in seven years ago (imagine how big they would be by now!) but they are in now. You have to start somewhere.

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