Sunday, May 25, 2008

Bill Bates

I had a shareholder way back in the beginning, she was a shareholder for a number of years and each year she would put in a special request.

Do not discuss certain subjects in the newsletter. And if you must, do not sent the newsletter to my address.

The subjects?


This is a bee newsletter.

But it is also a wedding present newsletter. and a honey newsletter (no its not about the time I spilt 600 gallons of honey on the sun room floor). And maybe a newsletter about growing older and wiser. I don't know for sure about the last one, though.

Regardless, since we’re thinking about honey and good things coming (the vegetable season starts in just over two weeks and things, despite all of this rain, including the vegetables, are really looking pretty good.

The rain didn’t seem to hurt the plants growing through the plastic mulch. If anything, they seem more healthy and robust than normal.

And while the downpour did manage to wash away a few thousand dollars worth of lettuce, mustard, chard and other seeds of our future spring greens, other seed miraculously took root and managed to survived the onslaught.

And while I was worried for a while there, it looks like our first share should be just fine, torrential downpour and all.

In the next week I will send shareholders an e-mail confirming which site they are getting their vegetables from along with instructions explaining how the pick up process works.

Yesterday, I went out and put supers on our beehives. A super is an extra box of frames, of honey comb, that the bees use to store honey in.

Right now the nectar flow in Virginia is on and the bees need extra room to store their nectar and pollen harvest.

The day started out to be much nicer than the predictors predicted. Sunny and fairly warm. and at first, around noon, the pleasant day must have effected the bees attitude on life because I didn’t even need a veil to work the hives, the bees were that gentle.

I would take the top off the hive, give them a little smoke, then take off the inner cover, give them a little more smoke,maybe take a frame out to see how life in that particular hive was progressing, put the frame back, then pick up the empty super and carefully place it on top of the hive body before putting the covers back on.

The bees were so gentle and calm there was hardly a bee that bothered to get up and fly in circles around my head.

It was a nice clear warm, sunny day in bee land and everyone seemed happy and content.

But the day dragged on.

We have just under 30 bee hives. That’s 30 hives in all sorts of conditions.

Think of a bee hive as a city-state. Some small, some large. Some peaceful. Others more industrious than usual. Hardworking. Focused.

And then some of the other sort.

The extremely warlike. The disorganized. The demoralized. the angry.

It was several hours later when I did something that all of the ‘how to keep bee’ books tell you not to do.

Don’t get careless.

Don’t drop a honey frame loaded with hundreds of bees down on top of a box full of bees.

I guess I was getting tired because I dropped something, and up until that time, it wouldn’t have mattered.

But something had changed.

The day had turned colder. There were clouds. It looked like it was getting ready to rain.

And the bees rather than seriously working, flying in and out, bringing in nectar and pollen were now upset.

Each time I opened a hive a number of bees would fly out and circle around my head, bouncing off my veil with an angry hum.

And then I did what I shouldn't have done. I dropped a frame full of bees and honey right on top of an open hive. A hive full to overflowing with honey, larva and of course, bees.

Which is about time to stop and jump back a few years to how I got into beekeeping.

Beekeeping isn’t something I’ve always done. In fact, up until I was in my mid 30’s, we’re talking about a couple decades ago, I had no interest in bees.

I didn't like bees.

In fact, I couldn’t tell a honey bee from a wasp. And a wasp from a yellow jacket.

I was one of those people that so irritate me now. A person that sees a wasp, or a yellow jacket, or even a peaceful bumblebee and goes into defense mode, as if they are about to be suddenly attacked by a marauding gang, and he yells out. ‘Look out, there’s a bee.”

First off, I want to say to them, 'It’s not a bee. It's a wasp.' or 'It's a yellow jacket.' or 'that sort of bumble bee doesn't even sting.' And then, and secondly, I want to say (if my chance it is actually a honey bee). 'Why do you think that bee would want to end its life and sting you of all people? What have you done to upset it?'

I remember what its like to be bee ignorant, so I don't.

Instead, I think back when I was a high school teacher. One afternoon several of us were meeting at another teacher's back yard.

He kept a couple bee hives in his back yard.

We were sitting there talking shop when a honey bee flew by, obviously checking out the scene, looking to see, possibly, if there was a flower around.

I saw it and went into panic mode. Picking up a newspaper and swatting.

I still remember the look on my friends face. And I hope that’s not the way I look at people today when they do something very similar.

Anyway, it was about then that Wenonah and I got married. We were living in a one time pre-civil war mansion outside of Charlottesville. A mansion that had fallen on hard times and was now a group house with several dozen down on their heels rooms, extensive flower gardens, now overtaken with poison ivy, a massive wisteria trellis with one end collapsing, and hundreds of boxwoods that hadn’t seen a clipper in at least thirty years there were now starting to look like misshapen trees rather than aristocratic hedges.

That’s when Wenonah’s father drove up.

Pulled his car on the grass.

Opened the trunk.

Pulled out several white boxes (remember, this man was wearing a coat and tie. No white beekeeper overalls, no veil, no gloves).

He took a couple white boxes out of his trunk. Set them down in the yard. made sure the top that fit over the boxes was firmly in place. And then turned around to me.

By this time I was just beginning to realize those things flying in circles around us were...


Bees with stingers.

Against my better judgment I didn’t take off and run, (though that was my first impulse).

Instead I stood quietly by and listened to my new father-in-law talk.

“I decided to give you something useful for a wedding present. Something that will produce a gift every year.

A beehive.”

I wasn't carefully listening to his words. Instead I was watching the insects. the bees. They sure looked like they were getting ready to attack.

But Wenonah's father, Bill, didn't seem to be all that worried. After he presented me with the gift he walked back in his car and was now rifling through the back seat.

“And here’s a book on beekeeping.

“And a bee veil.

“And here’s a hive tool, and a smoker.

“And these are a pair of gloves, They are made special so you can work the hive with them on.. Though, I expect, once you get used to it, to keeping bees, you won’t want to use them.

“And finally, when you've done it for a while. When you get the hang of keeping the bees, When you're ready, I have a hundred more hives up on the farm that you can have.

“That is if the two of you want want me to give you the farm.”

It took me about a year to convince Wenonah that moving to the farm was a good idea, and another half year to get our affairs in order.

I got a job teaching at a local high school during the winter. But during the summer I kept the bees, and Wenonah’s father helped. Which meant I did the work and he told me what he thought I should be doing.

I remember us taking off the honey together. The two of us. I would be fully decked out in my bee protection gear. White coveralls, a quality veil, tightly secured around my head. Long leather gloves with long sleeves attached that went up past my elbows where they were secured with elastic garters.

And I remember Bill wearing his work clothes, an old veil sort of draped over his head, and no gloves on his hands. Sometimes, even, he'd be wearing a short sleeve shirt.

I also remember every time I'd get stung. Every time some bee managed to sneak its way inside my protective armor and managed to give me a sting. I remember yelling and cussing, jumping up and down, cussing some more and then, when the pain died down, I'd finally get back to work.

And I remember the end of the day and looking at Bill’s ungloved hands and realizing that he had probably been stung twenty or thirty times during the day and not once had I heard him complain. I hadn’t even been aware that he'd been stung once, let alone several dozen times. He had just never let out a sound, Didn’t jump up and down. Didn't stop work. In fact had never even remarked that he'd been stung.

Every time some worker bee decided that she didn’t very much trust this human, that it looked like he was taking liberties with the very heart of her city state and she gave his naked hand a sting.

And Bill. He just kept on working.

So yesterday, when I was working the bees. I had started out not wearing gloves. It’s hard to do what you have to do if you are wearing thick gloves.

But about the time the sky had clouded over and I dropped that frame about a dozen of the working girls decided that they needed to sacrifice themselves for the good of the family and they gave my hands a dozen good stings.

I’d like to think that when I got those stings I just continued on my way. Carefully picking up the frame I’d dropped. Maybe giving the hive another puff of smoke, and without a comment going about my business .

But I didn’t.

Instead words came out of my mouth similar to what I might have used many years ago in the army. I jumped up and down and cussed a little more for good measure and then finally, finally when the real hurt from the sting had died down some. I went to my truck and there on the front seat were my pair of bee gloves. Just like the ones Bill had given me all those years ago.

My hands still hurt as I slipped the gloves on and I cussed one more time and thought back to when I asked him if the reason why he didn't wear gloves was because the stings didn't hurt him.

“No, ” he said. They still hurt. they hurt bad. But its something you just learn to live with.”

Leigh Hauter

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Singin' in the Rain

While we were getting that seven inches of rain last weekend I was out in my rain suit walking first up to the greenhouse then down to the hoop houses to see what damage was going on.

It was coming down so heavy it was hard to see. And while at first I was listening to music on my ipod but as the rain really started coming down it became impossible to hear Springsteen’s Born in the USA through those little earphones so I just turned it off and instead listened to the rain fall.

Rain beating down like it was the end of the world.

Which of course reminds me of forty years ago when Jim and Mike, a guy named Paisley and I were standing in the rain.

It had been raining all night.

In fact it had really been raining hard with no let up for most of the past week.

Only the last night we got hit with the proverbial cats and dogs and since it was Asia, elephants and leopards.

It was the rainy season along the Saigon River out by Cambodia and for the last 24 hours the rain had been coming straight down in bucket loads only without the buckets.

That’s when the wall of the bunker I slept in, probably the best bunker in the little hillside outpost we’d lived in for the past month, a child’s fort with airfield tarmac reinforcing the bunker roof and someone’s French name scratched in the concrete floor.

That’s when, just as it was getting dark the outside wall of the bunker, part of the berm surrounding the triangle shaped fort, turned to mud and disintegrated.

One moment the wall was solid sandbags. The next it was mud.

And the wall, no longer solid, turned into a liquid gunk and poured across the bunker.

Luckily, at the time, I was in my hammock reading by flashlight, rocking back and forth in the hammock, reading I don’t know what, some science fiction I imagine, that I’d fished out of the box of books that occasionally came from some women’s clubs back in the states.

The only place I could find to hang my hammock was fortunately up near the bunker’s ceiling, tying the rope through holes in the metal tarmac holding the roof up. This fortunately put my hammock four plus feet off of the floor. Fortunately because when the mud slide came it filled up the bunker from bottom to several inches below my hammock.

Everything below the hammock disappeared in to the goo. My rifle, my boots, my aid bag. My foot locker full of medicines and bandages.

I had to swim and struggled through that mess over to the opening with the ladder that I climbed up to find the outside world.

Once above ground I wasn’t greeted with anything cheerful. Just more rain and my other team members huddled together.

Their bunkers, which weren’t as well built as mine had filled with water earlier in the day and I was forced to join them for a night spent hovering under a make shift shelter of roofing tin on an improvised frame made out of two by fours recently scavenged from the nearest American base camp.

The four of us were the enlisted members of a small advisory team that would move from Vietnamese outpost to outpost around the rural countryside, allegedly giving the local regional force and popular force (sort of like Vietnamese national guard) units advise on how to fight the war against their neighbors and other Viet Cong warriors .

There were two other members of our team. Two officers, but earlier in the week, when the rain threatened to wash out the road connecting us to what passed for civilization in that part of the world, and a dry bed and hot meal, had taken the team jeep and skiddadled to the district teams headquarters in the former French mansion up the road in the provincial capital.

The official explanation was they were away attending a mandated meeting on strategy or training or some such nonsense, but we knew, the four of us huddled under the too small pieces of tin, that they had really abandoned us in search of a dry bed and a warm meal.

Under the tin with us we had a radio. The captain’s expensive short wave radio he had forbidden us to use in his absence. Fortunately, though, it too had been hanging from my bunker roof. the bunker I shared with him, so we were able to salvage it.

And there we stood, with the rain pounding on the tin shelter, listening to rock and roll on radio Beijing’s short wave station until the music show ended and a history of World War ll in the Pacific according to the Chinese came on. Being a early history buff, I tried to listen, but while the facts seemed to jive with what I’d been taught in an Arlington County High School, they were somehow weighed and put together differently until finally my head started to ache and I turned it off and started listening to what the others were saying.

They, of course, were talking about the weather.

I still remember Jim speaking. “If I get out of this,” he said. “If I make it back to the world I’m never ever standing out in the rain for the rest of my life.”

To that Paisley chimed in. “That’s two of us. No more rain for me. I’m moving to somewhere where it hardly ever rains and the only time I’m going to look at it is from inside a car with my windshield wipers slapping back and forth.”

To that Mike added “No rain for me either. When I get back to the world I’ll look out the window at it but never will I willingly stand in the rain for ever again for anymore.”

He said it one more time.

“When I get back to the world...” and at that his voice trailed off.

We all knew what Mike was thinking. He was the one that was pretty sure that he wasn’t ever making it back to the world. He had had one of those premonitions, I think they’re called. One that told him that something, somewhere, at sometime before he got on that airplane for the states was going to get him.

At that we all stopped talking and just stood there listening to the rain come down. Some times harder and sometimes a little bit lighter. All of us thinking our thoughts. All of us standing on the wet ground. The water filling the bottoms of jungle boots or in my case, since my boots were under the muddy goo, a pair of flip flops I’d left outside the bunker door.

I didn’t take part in the condemnation of rain conversation. Since it was only a month until I was due to go home my day dreaming drifted sort of towards walking in the rain with a girl. I hadn’t yet seen that Gene Kelly musical Singin' in the Rain but my day dream went something like the dance scene, only, only without the dancing and probably without the singing.

“How about you?” Mike asked. “what will you do back in the states when it rains like this?”

“I don’t know,” I answered,

I sure wasn’t going to give him a hint about the thoughts I was thinking. I could imagine the next half hour of ribbing.

“But I do know, if I tried to tell anyone about this, anyone back in the world that we spent the war standing out in the rain soaked to the skin under a little piece of tin I don’t think they’d believe me.

“This stuff here, If I wasn’t here right now, but instead if I was reading it, or maybe watching it on television, I’d think it was a joke. a comedy. Four guys standing out in the rain in VC country talking about staying dry back home.

“I wouldn’t believe it.”

They were silent for a little bit, I don’t know, trying to imagine what I was saying, what it would be like trying to explain this to someone that hadn’t been there.

Finally, after a bit, Paisley turned the captains radio back on and started turning the dial, trying to find some music, or maybe a talk show in English.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Marshall and Louise

I feel under siege.

I mean, I feel like I'm waiting for that, awful, that fateful attack. The one that overruns our defences. The attack that destroys everything.

When is this 'attack' going to happen? I don’t know when. (but don't sneak attacks and raids always come in the middle of the night. In the early morning, hours before the sun lights the sky)

Where? I don't know. It could be anywhere along our borders with the forest. Last year we had bears that ripped holes in the fence so they could get in and eat from the bee hives, to snap off the limbs of the fruit trees looking for apples and pears.

Why? That's an easy one. Why? Simple. Someone, or something out there is hungry. And this hungry someone, or something wants to eat what is growing, and living in our fields.

They want to eat our vegetables. And they definitely want to eat our chickens. And, of course, everyone wants an egg meal whenever they have that empty feeling.

Who? It could be just about anyone of that class of critters I call the eaters. And an eater is just about anyone. Back when I first started doing this sort of thing for the food bank and we would be donated land inside the city the eaters we were most worried about where the human kind. I remember spending time worrying about what was the least costly way of protecting tomatoes.

Out here in the country (well, what once was the country and has now turned into the front edge of the city's suburbs). It's a little different. The eaters have changed but the goal is still the same.

Here's an example.

Earlier this week Wenonah and I were going on our evening walk. Every evening is mostly the same walk. We leave the house and head up the gravel lane toward the greenhouse, follow the drive around the curve, past the cemetery, and down to the creek.

That's half a mile.

Until a few years ago you had to ford the creek. In a car that meant splashing through water half a foot deep.

On foot it meant either getting your feet wet, jumping ( it was maybe six feet across) or chancing it to the stepping stones I had set out in the water.

A few years back, though, I finally listened to Wenonah and put a pipe down for the creek to flow through and then built up the road with clay and gravel, so instead of getting wet we could drive or walk over the creek (the creek's official name is Catlett's Branch).

In doing away with the ford I sort of messed with the environment something that a shareholder over at the EPA called me to task on.

Instead of the creek flowing through some boggy land and then over the rocks and gravel the ford was made of, there is now a sort of pond (what Wenonah refers to as 'Leigh's swamp').

Back when I created the swamp I also bought a bag of goldfish and tossed them in the water. And this is what John called me to task on .

This week when we went for our walk I counted 150 gold fish. 150 goldfish means the gold fish are thrived and reproduced faster than the ducks, heron, snapping turtles and whatever else can gobble them up. In other words, a nonindigenous species has been successfully introduced. Fortunately it was only goldfish and not something like (fill in the blank with a fish with an evil sounding name).

Anyway, we turn right at the swamp with the goldfish and staying on the gravel road follow the creek for another half mile to where at one time there was a bridge and as many as a dozen houses including one that was reputed to be a house of ill-repute.

(Someday I’ll tell you the story about Marshall, his sister Louise, their mother, the sister’s lover, and, of course the voices that spoke to Marshall in the night. telling him, among other things, that it was his duty to get his sister to mend her evil ways (managing the house of ill repute) or, or he was to shoot her.

But be that as it may, We walked past where the bridge used to be ( I think it was a Sunday morning in the early 30's when Louise and her lover, stood in the water under the bridge hiding from Marshall as he came down the road calling out her name and telling her 'its too late now. You're going to have to be punished.' In each of Marshall's hands was a six shooter.

Marshall, it seems, had already had an encounter with Louise up at our house, their mother's house. That's where he had first pulled out his guns Pulled out his six shooters and speaking to Louise who was standing in the doorway told her, "You are a sinful woman." He lifted up one gun, aimed, and pulled the trigger.

And that's when Marshall and Louise's mother stepped in between them.

The bullet struck her and not Louise, and she fell down and died right there.

Louise didn't hesitate a moment. Instead of trying to reason with her brother, she grabbed her lover's hand and the two of them turned and ran out the back door, climbed dowm the hill, ran across the corn field (we're growing tomatoes, peppers and eggplant there now), and on the other side plowed right into the briars and thorns and ran as fast as they could down to the bridge..

Which was were Wenonah and I were walking. I was talking about the growing season and commenting on what a different year its been so far. And wondering if the morel season was still on.

You might not know it but this has been a fine year for our local edible mushrooms, morels.

I think I was saying to Wenonah, "How about some morels to go with the asparagus for dinner?"

And that's when I walked off the drive and into the brush around the old bridge foundation, hoping to see some mushrooms.

Instead of mushrooms, that's were I saw the egg shells.

Chicken egg shells.

In fact they were blue chicken egg shells just like the shells of eggs from our Aracuna chickens.

So the question is. How did they get there? This is 3/4 of a mile away by road from the chickens.

Or 300 hundred yards through the woods and poison ivy the way Louise had traveled almost 80 years ago.

Not the sort of path a human would normally take, but just the route a rabbit, or fox, or raccoon, bobcat would take after it had stolen some eggs from the hen house.

And that’s just eggs.

What about the chickens?

What if something was sneaking in and eating our chickens?

Just the other night there was a sound that I hoped never, ever to hear around here.

A sound I heard the first time in the early 1970’s way back in no-where Wyoming.

Back in Wyoming it was getting dark and we had been traveling all day, not really sure where we were except that our Volkswagon bug was going places I don’t think a four wheel truck was supposed to go.

But with dark coming on we decided to stop for the night. Anyway, the gas gauge was getting real close to the empty mark and while our Mobil highway map didn’t show the road we were on there was a possibility that we might come out on a highway sooner rather than later.

Since we hadn’t see another car all day there didn’t seem to be any need to find a camping place. We just stopped the bug right there in the middle of the dirt road in what was a narrowish canyon along side a stream.

And opening up the hood (remember with beetles the trunk was in the front) pulled out our canvas pup tent and preceded to collect fire wood.

I don’t remember what we had for dinner but I think our choice of wines back then came with the fine label of Boone's Farm (or something equivalent).

So we ate, enjoyed the wine, pulled out our army surplus mummy bags, climbed in and went to sleep.

Only to wake up in the pitch dark with gangs of animals laughing from the rock cliffs above our heads.

On our right, over on the other side of the creek, up above, one gang of these creatures would let out a scream, maybe a bark, a howl, laughter.

And then on the other side. The side of the creek we were on. Up above us what must have been four or five hundred feet, another gang would answer.

Crying, laughing, barking.

Only to be answered, again, from across the creek.

I think I had seen the movie about this but I couldn’t remember whether it was safer to stay in the sleeping bag inside the tent, or to make the mad dash for the vehicle. where you could quickly roll up the windows before the creature lunged at you.

I know we whispered back and forth.

“Do you hear that?”

“What do you suppose it is?”

“Do they know we’re here?”

How far away are they?”

“How many of them are there?”

“What are they?”

“In the movies they throw some wood on the fire, get the fire really blazing, and that way they’re safe.”

“Until the firewood’s gone.”

“Yes, but that’s in the movies. If I climb out and start a fire and they’ll know we’re here.”

“Besides, its cold.”

Well, I heard the same crying, howling, laughing the other night. Only I was upstairs in bed and I don’t’ think they could have got in the house. The doors were closed. The windows locked (I think). And I have that shotgun locked up in the gun cabinet.

Only there are all of those chickens out there just waiting to be eaten.

And Wenonah says, “What about my cats? They are not going to be safe.”

Fortunately Marcus our trusty guardian dog heard the sound too and immediately started barking and running through the night. and finally headed across the fields, through the onions and up toward the greenhouse.

Andorra, who is large and ferocious looking and as sweet as can be even followed Marcus, both of them barking.

And behind the house the turkeys started gobbling or whatever you want to call what a turkey does when they’re making a racket.

The roosters. Crowing.

The geese. (what is it geese do?)

Needless to say a racket.

And the coyotes. I guess we now have a family of coyotes living up on our mountain side. Since when did we have coyotes running around Virginia like it was out back Wyoming?

And next week we can talk about the vegetable eaters and our success, so far, in protecting your vegetables.

Farm News.

Delivery time is getting closer by the day. We start the week of June 9th. Next week I will start reviewing what an average pick up day looks like. I will also confirm which pick up location I have you down for.

Planting is underway. Our fields are filling up with vegetables. In fact, I'm worried about last night's rain. My rain gauge says 3.26 inches has fallen in the last 24 hours.

Damage? Our road took a big hit. I hadn't been all the way out yet but what I've seen is gullied and/or washed away.

More important than the road are the plants. Thursday we planted something like 15,000 seedlings. The field they're in is too wet to go wading around in. Hopefully they didn't wash away.

And then on Monday and Tuesday we planted seeds. Lots and lots of seeds. Our first couple weeks of greens.

Lettuces like black seeded simpson, green and red oakleaf, salad bowl, iceburg, romaine, and bibb. Mustards like giant red, southern, curley, suehlihung. Other salad greens like arugula, mizuna, tatsoi. tokyo bekana, and yukina savoy. And finally kale and collards.

Let's hope our contour planting kept them from washing away.

Otherwise? I guess we'll spend next week out replanting. Quickly buying more seeds and replanting.

We'll see.

Fortunately radishes take only three weeks,so they don't get put in the ground next week.

Last Saturday we had our first seedling give away. Shareholders took home between 2000 and 3000 seedlings.

We'll have another seedling give away tomorrow. Sorry but this is only for shareholders. Last week the peppers weren't ready. This week they are.

Leigh Hauter

Saturday, May 03, 2008

willful fowl

I’m being over run by willful fowl.

They won’t let me plant grass seed, they stomp on the flowers in the flower beds . Dig holes under the bushes. and of course leave a fine coating of high quality manure everywhere (including decks and steps) they go.

Just the other day I was walking out the back steps and … And... Well anyway. there seems to be strategic piles placed just about everywhere to ambush everyone's comings and goings. (you should have seen the look on the face of the neighbor's elementary school age daughter as she showed me the bottom of her shoe as though I was personally responsible).

And then, its not just the mess they make, it’s the birds themselves.

Example - Just the other night. The night it was raining so hard, I stepped out the kitchen door. It must have been going on two am, and I was up giving the farm, the gardens, the greenhouse and of course the birds one last look to see if everything was safe and sound when....

When I stepped on a rooster.

Right there on the steps to the porch.

There he was. A large red and black rooster, under better conditions you would have said a beautiful creature, all huddled up, soaking wet on the top step. His normally beautiful plumage damp and soggy. Looking like he had been in a fight with a fox and somehow managed to steal away instead being turned into a meal.

I don’t know what he was doing there. Our kitchen step is several hundred yards away from where the chicken’s mobile home is current parked.

Why did it decide to camp for the night on my steps, instead of its nice warm chicken house?

And that wasn’t all.

There were two hens sitting on the railing around the back deck. And right there below the chicken behinds. Down on the deck, were two large mounds of chicken droppings.

Fairly large piles sitting behind them on the deck.

And then out on the stone wall, in front of the house...

Four more hens, sleeping (or whatever it is that birds do at night) side by side.

And, showing a little bit more intelligence, in the barn, on the steps going up to the loft, two more.

And finally, in the barn's side room, the room I’ve taken to storing ‘stuff’ in. There on top of the old, it must be an antique by now, cook stove was another hen. For some reason the willful ones really like the cook stove, (it must be the warming shelf above the stove top) that I’ve given up on keeping it clean and have instead covered the top with grain sacks.

Why is it? Why won’t the chickens stay in their pasture? Why do they insist on flying over the electric fence and climbing the hill up to the house where they are obviously not wanted (my new strategy is to throw a rock in their direction each time I see one scratching for grass seed in the year).

But enough about poorly behaved chickens, unless, of course, you want to come out and try your hand at catching wayward birds and returning them to their pasture. Not that catching them much matters.

Each time I catch a bird in the yard I’ve taken to clipping the feathers on one wing back a few inches under the theory that with one wing shorter than the other its harder to fly.

However, I’ve noticed recently a number of repeat offenders. Chickens caught with clipped feathers.

Upon being caught for the second offense I clip the feathers back a little further. Maybe I hadn't cut enough the first time.

And the third time? Should we institute a repeat offenders program. Three strikes and she's out. Or is that three strikes and she's chicken soup?

The problem with that, though, besides the fact that we'd start coming up short on eggs is that I’d have to pluck and gut the offenders myself and to tell the truth, I’m not much when it comes to chicken plucking.

Let's go to the Farm News

This rain is slowing our planting down. We filled the fields in front of the house plus the one by the greenhouse by last week but we haven’t been able to do any planting so far this week. (which is probably just as well, it dropped into the 30’s last night and is expected to do it again tonight. That’s awfully chilly soil for plants like tomatoes, basil and peppers.

Asparagus picking and egg give way. Over 50 dozen eggs were taken by shareholders last Saturday. In fact some of the late arrivers didn’t get any eggs. (sorry). And there were about 15 cars here at ten on the dot to cut asparagus. the 15-20 shares worth of asparagus was gone in the first twenty minutes.

Ground hogs and deer. This year I’m determined to not lose vegetables to our local fauna. We are putting up a second deer fence outside (and some places inside) the original deer fence. meaning that if a deer wants to get in and eat our vegetables she has to go through two fences with a five foot space in between. That's a pretty serious jump.

Our other big vegetable eater, and at this time of your just as bad if not worse than the deer is the ground hog. Ground hogs are close to impossible to catch with a live trap. The standard method for getting rid of groundhogs is to sit still, usually for several hours, with your varmint gun waiting for the victim to venture out of her burrow.

Me? I’m not much of a shot and you only get one shot before the groundhog retreats back underground, but over the past several years half a dozen shareholders have spend days out sitting and waiting. Sure seems to be a poor cure to me.

What I’m doing this year in a big way is installing anti-ground hog electric fences. This is on the expensive side but groundhogs are an expensive varmint to have around and the fences work.

So if you come out to the farm and see that short 18 inch tall white fence, DO NOT TOUCH! The fence’s are attached to some rather strong energizers and they are capable of giving quite a shock that is capable of deterring even a vegetable hungry groundhog.

Bees. The last of the 20 packages of bees arrived yesterday. Each package is three pounds of worker bees and one queen bee. Enough to give a good start to a new beehive.

Unlike the previous 15, the packages that arrived this week were in very poor condition. The apiary that raised them had driven them by truck and stopped in Roanoke to mail the ones that were destined for apiaries, farms and back yards in Virginia.

Apparently, though, the mail delivery from Roanoke to The Plains isn’t all that fast and many of the bees starving in route after they consumed the quart of sugar water included in the bee cage. (I think the truck driver would have done better to wait until he was up in New York before dropping ours in the mail. Have you noticed that it often takes less than a day for a letter or package to travel from NYC to DC ).

First vegetable delivery - that will be the week of June 9th. Specific details on our webpage.

Years as a CSA. - I just looked back at my records and realized that this is the 12th year that I've been a professional farmer. This is Bull Run Mountain Farm CSA's 12th year. Not its eleventh as I somehow recollected.

the mind of a chicken

I meant to start off by telling you how I don't understand what goes on in a mind of a chicken.

This is because last week we moved the chickens from one pasture to the next.

And the chickens, rather than going along for the ride, and calmly and peacefully moving into their new field, rebelled. resisted. fought back. gummed up the works.

I mean, here we are, we successfully move the chicken tractor, (we really do need a better name for that, too. Something with a little more pizzazz than 'chicken house on wheels') . Hooked it up behind the farm truck and like someone with a vacation mobile home, we moved it from one camp space to the next.

And around the new camp site, we put up the fence. The electric 'keep the predators out, keep the chickens in' fence.

And the chickens? We moved them too. After years of doing this we've learnedk. We set the new fence in place before opening up a hole in the old fence and then slowly, gradually shooed the chickens across the space between until they found themselves fenced in to the new location.

The move was successful. the move was complete. The mobile chicken home in its new location. the electric fence put up around the new pasture (camp site, if you will).

And the occupants? the chickens? They were there too. All enclosed with the electric fence.



However I forgot to turn the current on that runs through the fence, at least I forgot to turn it on right away.

And when I did go out to the fence charger, several hours later, just before dark, something had knocked a corner of the newly placed fence down.

And over in the old pasture. The empty pasture. The one without a fence, with only my tractor still sitting were I'd parked it, right in the middle of the field.

Up on the roof of the tractor.

50 daffy chickens getting ready for the night. Roosting, side by side.

(have you ever tried to heard chickens after dark?)

Anyway, you know, of course what that means?

Sometimes I feel that at any one time there are dozens of eyes peering out of the woods at the chickens. Predator eyes. Waiting..

Waiting for the chance at a chicken dinner.

Foxes, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons or even a skunk.

And speaking of skunks. The other night, early morning, really, around two, I was out and about checking to make sure everything was safe, warm and sound when I walked down to the chicken pasture and the air was filled with the hint of a skunk.

I flashed the light back and forth. shinning it into the woods, Under the trailer, up on the roosts but I didn't see her (the skunk),

Which was fine with me, I didn't want to find a skunk in the henhouse. (By the way, how do you get a skunk out of the henhouse?

Several years ago a family of skunks moved under the storehouse, no doubt attracted by our chickens and their eggs.

I knew the skunks were there before I ever saw one. There was always that vague aroma in the air. And then when I first saw one, it was in the evening, I saw her come out form under that old building and nonchalantly strolled up to the chicken fence, that electrified fence I put around the chicken pasture to keep the chickens in and animals like the skunk out.

Well she got up next to that fence, looked around and then carefully using her front paws just as we would our hands, lifted up the bottom strand, the non electric strand of the electrified fence, and lifting it over her head squeezed underneath and into the chicken yard.

It's about then I started hollering and the dogs started barking and the skunk, not before eating several eggs and taking another one with her as though she had been grocery shopping, and repeated the process in reverse, getting herself out of the pasture.

It was right then that our dogs, the two huge Great Pyrenees caught up with her, surrounded her, double teaming her like I've seen them do to other animals.

One in front snapping and growling, right in its victims face while the other gp sneaks up behind and with a quick lunge.

Well I don't need to go into details. Only let it suffice to say that the gp's while they are sweet as can be around people and children are serious livestock guardians. They have been breed for hundreds, if not thousands of years to be very competent at protecting chickens and sheep, goats and cattle, pigs and geese from that class of hungry animals we so blithely classify as predators.

Only, only this time the instinctual plan of attack didn't work.

While the one dog was busy barking in ms. skunk's face, and while the other one was sneaking up from behind. Ms. skunk casually lifted her tail and quickly let fly with a stream of perfume.

Andorra, Andorra was coming up from behind, got a squirt right in the eyes. ,

It was a sad sight to see. She stopped her attack instantly and shook her head trying to clear her vision..

Apparently in shock.

Right then, though, the other dog. This was Mark Twain, Marcus's predecessor, he saw his chance and closed in on the skunk.

Only she spun around and let go with another stream. This time catching MT in the mouth.

And let's stop right there and think...

It's two oclock. Maybe two thirty in the morning and you are out by the hen house on wheels because you think that something's astray and there's that smell in the air.

What do you do?

While you think about that, let's do the farm news.


I'm obviously running late getting this out. Suddenly the amount of farm work has jumped. I'm switching the newsletter to early in the week rather than on Friday's.

Last week, putting me behind with the newsletter, we finished planting the onions. 20,000 onions and leeks.

We also planted the first week's worth of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and pac choi. That's a 1000 of each.

And on Friday morning at 6 am the woman from the post office gave me a call to tell me that fifteen pounds of bees were making a racket in post office and would I (she didn't say please) would I get over there right away.

When I did, around 10, there were five packages, with queens, three pounds of buzzing bees and a queen in each of five screen cages. I told the woman at the post office that the bees were nice and she didn't have anything to worry about.

I don't think she believed me.

Then on Saturday I counted about 40 shareholders (I sent out a notice to just shareholders on Friday night) came out to get eggs and cut asparagus. The Asparagus is up and growing and while there's not enough to gothe first 20 people, I think, went home with enough asparagus for a meal or two.

I will send out another notice later this week reminding shareholders of the time I will be around the farm over the weekend. If you want to come out during the week, e-mail me so we can coordinate times.

Finally, It looks like our shareholder list is firmed up for the season. For all the new people, I will be sending out information over the next month on what to expect and how the details work. Our first delivery of the season is on June 9th, the second week of June.

Leigh Hauter