Sunday, May 20, 2007

Blue Jays

(this was another delayed post. It went out on time to subscribers and those on our newsletter list)

We have a heavy duty philosophical question to be answered this week concerning aggression, perceptions, group think and just plain old behavioral psychology.

Of course I'm talking about blue jays.

But, before we get around to a discussion this heavy and possibly uncomfortable, let's go through the bright side and talk about this week's farm news.

First, last weekend was 'shareholders come to the farm, look around, get a tour and pick up seedlings' weekend.

We had set out 6000 various seedlings. A lot of tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, eggplant and a fairly good selection of just about everything else we grow. There was well over 1000 flowers and another 1000 herbs.

These are seedlings we start along side the ones we grow to put out in the fields. Seedlings that are a sort of security blanket.

They are the reserve team incase disaster strikes the fields.

In case a late frost wipes out 2000 basil plants (that happened two years ago).

Or in case a deer or two moseys through a hole in the deer fence and eats 1000 broccoli plants before the deer can be run off and the fence patched (three years ago)

Or if a ground hog happens to dig under a fence and finds several thousand young tasty pac choi to its likings (again, last year).

I've long since learned that a thousand pepper seedlings (or tomatoes or broccoli or... well anything) are not available on short notice.

So we start extras. And if it turns out we don't need them, instead of tipping (turning them over and reusing the flats and trays). We let shareholders pick through them.

So, last Saturday we took out 6000 extra seedlings out of the greenhouse and send out a notice to shareholders.

And while each year this event is becoming more and more popular, we didn't expect last weekends turnout.

Something like 300 people showed up at the farm last week and took home with them over 5000 seedlings.

Wow. That was something. It almost overwhelmed us with all the people and cars and questions (thank you Wenonah for taking off from your job to help hand out the seedlings while I went around answering questions and giving tours of the farm).

So, what I'm building up to say is that I have more seedlings.

This past week we've been planting, and planting and we've filled most of our fields, and while a couple deer did break end and eat several thousand plants, those have been replaced. And the seedlings that didn't take have been replanted. And the lone groundhog has been dealt with and his damage replaced.

But we still have extra seedlings with no place to call home.

So I was thinking, instead of tipping half a dozen thousand vegetable seedlings I'd give them away to the people that came out this coming Saturday. (May 19th) Let's make the time 10-12. No earlier than 10 and at 12 I'm going to close the gate, put a chain with a padlock on it eat lunch and go on a bike ride.

Last weekend we had Wenonah help with handing out seedlings but that's not her job. She has a day job. And this weekend she won't be around. It will just be me.

Last weekend I had cut up several hundred dollars worth of flats so people would have something to take their seedlings home in. This weekend you will need to bring something of your own to hold these 3/4 inch in diameter seedlings. (I won't be supplying anything).

Last weekend it was open to only 2007 shareholders, this weekend if you are on the newsletter list you can get seedlings too (don't advertise it on your blogs or newsletters though, let's just keep it between us).

Last weekend I didn't set a numerical limit on the number of seedlings people could take away with them, this weekend lets say the most you can take home is 25 seedlings.

Last weekend there were flowers, herbs and various vegetables set out. This weekend it will be predominately vegetables. The extra flowers and herbs are mostly gone.

This week I'll be setting out a dozen or so varieties of tomatoes, peppers (hot and sweet) eggplant, fennel, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Italian basil, Thai basil, ground cherries, tomatillos, endives,luffas, gourds and probably 5 or 10 other varieties in small numbers.

Finally (I hate to set out rules), last weekend I let people go through the asparagus bed unsupervised and cut their fill. after spending three hours this past Tuesday afternoon fixing the damage to the miscut asparagus plants I don't think that was such a good idea.

Since it will only be me here,and no one else to give help and advise, let's limit this event to a strictly 'come out to the farm and get seedlings' sort of thing.

Of course is you want to go on a picnic, I can point out a place and if you are interested in hiking the mountain, I will try to make it up there tomorrow with a roll of surveyor ribbon to mark the trail.

So, with all those rules and caveats, I look forward to seeing you this weekend. And if you didn't get last week's newsletter with the notes about our road, drop me a note and I'll send it to you.

Other farm news:

Shareholders. In the next week I will be sending out an e-mail confirming which pick up location you are signed up for (yes, you can switch locations but this is to make sure I have you getting your vegetables somewhere for the first week). When you get this e-mail correct me if I'm wrong.

Pick up spots. Two of the sites are still somewhat in the air. It looks like the Dupont Circle area spot will remain where it has been for the past decade. The building at 16th and P, I understand, is still empty. I will tell you the final location with next week's e-mail.

The Herndon site, I've been told, is no longer there. The parking lot we were using is now a construction site with a building rising from the rubble. I will find a new location close by over the next week and get back to you.

Besides that everything out here is going along smoothly. Half of our tote bags have arrived. Ten new bee hives arrived in the mail this last week and have been boxed and placed.

Most of the crops are in the ground. Everything seems to be coming along fine. No late frosts, no horrible diseases, no insect pests, no major mammal misunderstandings (two deer did sneak inside the fence yesterday but we managed to chase them out after they had only eaten several hundred plants The anti-deer fence has since been repaired).

Our subscription list is full. I contacted all the people that signed up but had forgotten to pay. The ones that responded with a new payment plan are still on the subscription list. The ones that didn't get back to me were dropped and their places filled with people from the waiting list.

The only problem I see right now are weeds. Weeds growing in the rows, Weeds coming up through the holes punched in the plastic and, weeds trying to choke our tender young seedlings.

I'm starting to think that we could use some help with the weeds.

How about this? If you have a spare day during the week (we will organize weekend 'farm days' later when we have free weekends) but if you have extra time during the week and can think of nothing you would rather do than to come out to the farm and pull weeks, e-mail me. I can no doubt accommodate you.

And the other thing I almost forgot about, and now that this newsletter has gotten so long will have to give short shift.

What do you think of blue jays?

I have this memory from somewhere. I think its from about 25 or so years back when I lived in Falls Church.

I remember this bird nest outside our door. And I remember this blue jay.

I remember the birds in the nest raising, first eggs, and then little baby chicks, and I remember the blue jay.

It would come around and the parents, not liking it as a neighbor, would attack and peck and run it off. Day after day.

Only I remember this one afternoon. The parents most have been out, searching for food for their babies, when suddenly the blue jay appeared.

Swooped down.

Landed on the edge of the nest, And with one quick movement, reached in, shook the chick, and instantly killed it.

The parent appeared right around then but it was too late. The jay flew off with the dead chicks body.

I think about that these days with the blue bird box out the window, the nest inside, the baby chicks and now, the pair of blue jays hanging around.

The other day one of the blue jays landed on the roof outside my window. There is a bird feeder there with sunflower seeds and an endless stream of finches and warblers and even an occasional grosbeak or two.

When the blue jays landed on the roof even their simple movements when picking up seeds were aggressive.

Quick, jerking, motions.

The other smaller birds looked on in horror and then I don't remember what bird it was, but one of them flew down pecking at the blue jay, catching it right in the neck and flew off.

The blue jays weren't deterred. They quickly, with their jerking aggressive motions, picked up several more seeds before flying off. Disappearing, I don't know where.

And now that I've said it, now that I've described the picture, I don't know how to ask the question.

What is it about the blue jays that makes the other birds just not like them.

Obviously they are aggressive, predators. I mean, I've seen with my own eyes a blue jay in the act of robbing a nest.

But that's not what was happening outside the bird feeder. They weren't being aggressive. They were just their eating, just like the other birds.

Why were they attacked?

Anyway, have a great weekend and maybe see you this weekend.

Leigh Hauter


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