Sunday, March 09, 2008

something at night

The other night, sometime after midnight.

I was outside. Making sure everything was OK. Walked by the barn, looked in, Then over toward the chicken pasture. My destination was the greenhouse. It was time to put more wood in the boiler.

Tonight is was one of those nights where the stars just glisten. No moon. Not a cloud. Crisp.

And that's when I walked under the old pear tree (see

I hadn't expected it. one of the guineas, somewhere near the henhouse, was squawking , making that rhythmatic guinea squawk they make, at the time listening to her neurotic night song, thinking about the minds of guineas and that's why I was probably so started. I hadn't expected anything in the tree.

Not then.

But suddenly up above me something huge moved.

At first I thought it might be that cat. What else would be up there in the night.

And then, there were the wings. Huge clumsy flapping wings, trying to take off from up in the tree top.

Colliding with branches. Flapping as it made a racket getting into the air and then struggling through through the night around the house and disappeared beyond the large fire damaged holly tree.

I stood there trying to pick it out through the starlight. Listening to it disappear down to the south with no idea what it could be.

Maybe one of the peafowl, it was surely that large. Maybe the peacock had decided to spend the night perched up in the pear.

And it was startled, roosting that low to the ground.

Which of course reminded me of the night we were camped out in the desert. Actually, it was in that place they say is the most remote location in the continental United States. That place on the far side of the Colorado River in the Maze district of Canyonlands.

But before we go off into the desert lets stay close to home with this week's farm news.

First of all are the shares. We are no longer taking vegetable shareholders at the Dupont Circle area, East Falls Church or now Alexandria pick up spots. We're full up at those spots.

(actually we have been putting people that are interested in those sites on a waiting list and will see if there are openings Come April when share payments are due).

Currently, we are taking another dozen shares for people that want to pick up their vegetables in Manassas, Centreville or on the farm. If you know anyone who wants to sign up and lives or works down 66. Here's there chance.

Also, as some of you might have noticed, we had a Herndon pick up site over the past several years but dropped it this year. However, there are still people that would like to get vegetables out that way. If anyone is interested, here's what I will do. We have a shareholder in Herndon who has volunteered her porch as a pick up spot and now have someone who is willing to pick up vegetables from Centreville on Friday and drive them over to the porch that night. We currently do something similar on the Hill after we dropped that pick up spot. If you are interested in getting your vegetables in Herndon, we are adding a limited number of shareholders to the porch pick up.

Eggs. This week again shareholders get free eggs if they come out to the farm. You have to check with me before showing up.

Seedlings. It hasn't taken long but we've filled up about a third of the greenhouse. Over 20,000 seedlings are planted. The seedlings that got a frost when we started are even coming up. As far as I can tell we're off to a good start.

Water system. Even the water system to the greenhouse is up and working just fine. We replaced the frozen PVC with polypipe. polypipe is, if you've been around when water wells are drilled, that black pipe that comes in 100 or 300 foot rolls and is used to reach water down to the bottom wells. It is much more resilient than PVC and does a better job of standing up to the elements.

Drought? Well, its raining right now and is supposed to rain again tomorrow. So far, this year, we are off to a decent start vis-a-vie rainfall. Unlike last year where we ended up being something like 20 inches below normal. Twenty inches is a lot of water we didn't get and considering tomatoes need almost an inch a week it made the living difference for a number of vegetables.

And that's probably it for our farm this week leaving us camped out on a plateau with endless desert down below us.

We were spending the night way out on the end of a plateau where we had driven our jeep over the rocks and around the ledges until finally what passed for a trail ended and the land dropped several thousand feet on three sides. (I know I wrote about this in three or four newsletters back in 05 but it must have been just before I started the blog).

We set up our tent under a wizened old fir tree and after a day of Wenonah hiking and me taking my mountain bike across the countryside we came back and lit our lantern and cooked our food and were sitting on the boulders being amazed by the night sky when I accidentally moved the light to shine up on the top of the tree where a large hawk, I guess it was a hawk, sat perched on a dead limb obviously waiting to see if anything tasty might happen by.

We sat there watching him for several moments until suddenly, something happened, (something to eat?) and he jumped into the air and like a wizard in a fantasy novel, disappeared.

The other night, I never saw whatever it was in the tree, but I did hear it jump into the air, definitely not as delicate as our desert hawk, actually making quite a racket like it wasn't accustomed to flying after dark, trying to flap its huge wings, hitting other limbs, almost sounding like it was going to fall out of the air right on me and then there was the cumbersome flapping.

It didn't sound like a chicken, much too large, or like something that makes its living from eating chickens (not coordinated enough).

And speaking of chickens. We've moved them. Moved them away from the barn, across the drive and onto a stand of winter rye.

The idea being, we're slowly moving the flock to where they will spend the summer, off to the side of the field in front of the house.

From there we can watch them.

Last summer we pastured the chickens a quarter of a mile from the house, over by the cemetery. Plenty of pasture but difficult to protect from predators..

While the chickens have an electric fence surrounding their pasture the reward of a chicken dinner makes them extremely attractive to our local predator population.

In fact I have a pair of really nice pictures from a wildlife camera, documenting this fact.

The first picture is of this scrawny, little, mangy fox as it came running down the road in the middle of the night.

The second picture is again of the same fox. Only, this time he's not alone.

On the return picture he's traveling with a companion. A turkey. One of our large black heirloom turkeys.

The turkey looks to be still alive traveling in the fox's mouth.

Quite a shot. Our domestic bird must be twice the size of the scrawny fox only that doesn't seem to matter. Instead of flapping its wings, jumping in the air and landing claws first in the foxes face, our turkey must have simply given up the ghost. Fallen to its knees, tucked its head under a wing and waited for whatever was to happen, to happen.

Here came the fox. Looked at the fence, probably ran up and down, around the fence, The time between the pictures was only a couple of minutes, looking for a place to sneak under the fence without getting shocked. (and believe me, the charge on our electric fence puts out a shock. Yesterday, I was carefully straightening the fence where it had sagged and accidently touched it with my ungloved hand. The shock was enough to bring me to my knees. I would have to be extremely hungry to even consider challenging it).

But even with the electric fence the various predators took a toll on our chickens, decimating the flock, in that far field.

The only answer seemed to be either going over to the pasture each and every night and when the chickens went into to roost, close the door on our hen house on wheels and lock them in for the night (which also meant getting up in the morning and freeing them for the day).

Either that or bring them closer to the house where they could be more closely watched and protected.

And that's why this year the chickens, guineas and turkeys are living right in front of the house (and this summer, during the vegetable season, will be just on the other side of the field).

If there's a squawk at night here, we'll hear it. Not only will we hear it but the gp's will too. And I suspect you have to be a mighty hungry predator to risk having one of those dogs chasing you back into the forest.

Our geese, though, we're leaving put.

They do a pretty good job of defending themselves.

Around here, there aren't that many predators that are going to take down a goose. And that the ones that can, the neighbor's dog. maybe a coyote, are going to raise such a fuss that our guardian dogs, the pair of Great Pyrenees are going to go rushing to their defense.

Leigh Hauter


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