Friday, June 13, 2008

roosters, chicks,

Several things this week.

First, I’ve come to realize that roosters are real slave drivers. No mercy at all.

I know because for the summer we’ve moved the chicken tractor on the hill right behind the house. I’ve put the fence for their pasture on the hill right up under our deck, right below the house.

That means the chicken’s ‘four seasons’ on wheels or is that the ‘four seasons trailer park’ is almost right under our bedroom window.

(I did this to get the chickens off our fields for the season, away from our vegetables).

That’s just fine, the chickens keep the weeds down and I don’t have to mow that rocky hill.

Except. Except at 4:30 in the morning (or whenever time it is that the ridges up above our valley start to vaguely lighten.

This isn’t the morning, its really late, late night.

No one in their right mind calls this sunrise.

I mean sunrise down here in our valley is still several hours away.

But not to those roosters.

They start crowing there hearts out.

And its not just a cock-a-doodle-doo here and cock-a-doodle-doo there.

This is a serious wake up call.

Just as soon as the night breaks just a smidgen those roosters are out there demanding the hens get up out of bed (or, if you will, off their roosts).

They are marching back and forth from one end of the chicken yard demanding the hens get up and get at it.

Unfortunately, once they’ve got the hens out of bed, and let me point out, this is not morning yet, anyone in their right mind knows its still the middle of the night,

Once the roosters have got the hens up and pecking and scratching around the pasture looking for that proverbial early worm or whatever, the hens start complaining.

And then the guineas start screeching which is shortly followed by the turkeys.

And no one can sleep through the sound of a peacock.

And all of this goes on at a time in the morning that no one would consider a civilized time to be up and awake.

So that’s my first complain. Chickens demanding the world get up and at it when its still so dark outside that no one can yet see enough to get any work done.

Then there are the baby chicks I mentioned in the last newsletter.

We left off with one chick peeking its head out of an egg.

As you no doubt remember,this was a communal nest. It wasn’t just one hen sitting on half a dozen eggs in one nest. Instead, it was four hens sitting close together on something like fifty eggs in what looked like one large nest.

I don’t think anyone says this is the best way to incubate eggs. It sure wasn’t my idea, in fact I didn’t know about it until we were about halfway through with the process, back in a corner of the barn.

Well, three of these hens now think they have finished with their laying obligations and along with 5 little baby chicks are now exploring the barn, making a mess on the barn floor and eating the dogs food.

Leaving behind one hen and something like four dozen eggs.

Now, half those eggs have been pushed out on their own. The remaining hen isn’t sitting on them so we can assume they are worst for the wear and I’ve now thrown them out.

but the other two dozen are under the one remaining hen. who knows for how long.

And the three hens are running around acting like they the sole mother to five chicks.

I don’t know how this is going to work out. Do the hens think they are the mothers of a specific chick or is it some sort of a communal thing.

And how do the chicks feel about i?

And then there’s the swamp.

And the beaver.
Since the young beaver made its appearance last week Wenonah and I’ve been on the lookout to see if we now have a mating pair.

And while there are signs that a beaver is around. There are plenty of floating sticks with the bark gnawed off, we hadn’t actually seen a pair.

And then, this weekend, way over on the far side of the swamp, something was kicking up water and mud.

From where we stood it was pretty hard to see what was making all the brouhaha, so I took off around the edge jumping from one clump of relatively dry mud to the next until I had worked my way around to the far side and climbed out on a fallen tree to get a better look.

And that’s when I saw them.

Down there in the mud and swamp water. A pair of wrestling snapping turtles.

Each turtle had a shell with the diameter of what I guess was a 15 inch computer screen.

Not small turtles these.

And as I watched I realized that while they were wrestling, they weren’t what you would call fighting.

In fact it looked like they were sort of enjoying themselves flipping back and forth together in the water and mud.

I watched for a while longer and then becoming a little self-conscious (I have a neighbor, a retired marine and now retired lawyer who is always giving me a hard time when I tell him about making similar sightings of birds and animals in similar situations).

I therefore retraced my steps back down the log (without falling in the mud) and back around to dry land and out of the swamp and over to where Wenonah was waiting for a report.

“It’s two snapping turtles caught in the act,” I told her.

She said , “It must be the season.”

She said that because just the day before we’d been walking in the shade behind our store house when there in front of us were a pair of black snakes all intertwined in the tall grass and shade.

While Wenonah stayed and watched I ran back to the house to get a camera that I snapped a dozen pictures with that I haven’t yet put on the webpage.

And now for the strictly vegetable news:

Our first week of deliveries are just finishing up and we survived two days of 100 degree weather and then another down pour and hail storm.

The heat caused a lot of our spring crops to go into panic mode and to begin bolting (prematurely doing the same thing those turtles and snakes were up to).

Because of that we lost most of the first growth of our broccoli. the broccoli instead of growing large beautiful heads went into panic mode and tried to turn into small yellow flowers.

Hopefully, we snapped most of the flowering buds off and will get plenty of secondary growth, meaning hopefully the plants will produce plenty of smaller broccoli heads in he next couple weeks.

Then there’s the pac choi which also began bolting in the heat.

With pac choi you can’t snap off the flowers and get healthy plants so what we did with the first sign of bolting we harvested the entire plants before they were ruined. The result was a lot of pac choi that edible but not particularly pretty.

Other crops that are ruined by the heat are lettuces and mustards. I think with these we were mostly lucky. Did you notice the little yellow flowers in the lettuce? That’s due to the excessive heat. I think it was harvested without much damage.

As long as the temperature stays below 90 for the rest of June we’ll be OK.

During our first week of vegetable deliveries I was asked when such and such a vegetable would be in the share.

Good questions.

The easy way to find out is to look on our webpage under ‘Share History’ .

There you will find a record of what was in the share each week for the past 9 years. All the way back to 1999.

So, if you want to know when you are likely to see your first tomato of the season look through our share history and you will see when they started appearing.

Speaking of tomatoes, this year I am growing a really early tomato (‘Siberian’) that brags it will ripen 52 days after planting. If they are telling the truth we should see a ripe tomato next Saturday. Any bets on that?

Finally, put July 12th on your calendar.

That’s the date for the annual shortly after summer solstice farm party and pot luck meal .

This is a chance to come out to the farm, meet the other shareholders, share a meal with them, tour the farm and have a pleasant afternoon.

More details will follow.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

beaver pond?

By the way, I apologize for the late newsletter but it really wasn't my fault. Our electricity was out from Wednesday afternoon until late last night.

Actually that was nice. Most people complain about the electricity going out because no electricity means no water which means no flushing the toilet.

Out here on our farm our water is electricity free. The water comes to us by gravity, flowing down the mountain from an artisan spring up near the mountain top.

This means when the electricity is out, unlike our neighbors, we still have water.

And our hot water?

We heat water (and our house) with wood.

We have a wood 'gasification' boiler that during the summer I fire up once a week for all the hot water we need.

The only things we need now is for me to finally get around to hooking up that micro-hydro generator so we have enough electricity for things like freezers and the computer to send out newsletters.

But then, not having electricity has its advantages. yesterday, for lunch I had the excuse to slurp on a quart of lemon sorbet that had started to turn into a sort of slurpy.

It was so tasty that when I had finished I was kind of wishing there was more sorbet in the freezer, maybe some peach or strawberry.

Oh well.

Without electricity it was enjoyably quiet. No motors humming. no stereo, no fans.

The only sound besides the chickens, geese and the dozens of birds flying in and out of the forest was my neighbors generator.

When the electricity went out their generator kicked on.

These neighbors are, by road, a good mile away from us. But by crow, they are half that distance.

As I heard the generators rumble I had two thoughts. The first one was of a gas pump clicking off dollar after dollar after dollar.

The other one is a generator in my distant past that was just as noisy.

It was part of the permanent equipment of this advisory team I was the medic with in Vietnam. I have a short story about that generator I wrote a couple decades ago that I might freshen up this week and put on the blog.

But, let's get back to the world of background motors, stereos and computers, tractors and greenhouse fans for long enough to hear the story that was originally going into he newsletter.

It took place on our evening walk.
Wednesday just as it started turning dark.

We were coming back up the bottom road.

Down by the 'swamp'

We had walked the mile on the quiet road back to the log house with the generator and were on our way back when we stopped and were listening to the bullfrogs croak and looking out in the pond to see if any goldfish survived the rainstorm.

How many goldfish stayed in the pond, and how many washed down stream?

"Maybe we could walk down the creek with a bucket this weekend and bring back the goldfish that washed through the drain?' I said.

Wenonah gave me one of those looks. This one plainly saying: "That sounds like the pre-teenage boy in you, and not something grown women do."

I know that look well. Even with me being almost 60 years old, pre-teenage boy activities still sound like fun.

"I wonder how far down stream the goldfish went?" I added.

Wenonah just shook her head and didn't bother to engage my thoughts.

While this was going on we were both standing there at the water's edge looking far out in the pond. Back to that place where the old tree has fallen in the water. This time of evening that's where the goldfish usually hang out.

And that's why we didn't see it.

We didn't see the animal that was almost at our feet.

A large rodent sitting in the water, actually, standing on a partially submerged tree. It's body also half submerged.

It couldn't have been more than three or four feet away.

A young beaver.

One that had apparently struck out on its own (adult beaver, the book says, Keep their young in the home pond for the first two years. babying and feeding and loving them. Showing them the ways of the world.

And then..

And then they are kicked out of the nest (or should we say pond) Forced to go out on their own and make a living without any parental support.

Either that, or starve (there's no asking mom and dad for money to go back to school. No graduate school for these beaver and cheap government loans and grants have mostly disappeared with the 60's. And we're not even talking about housing or preserved habitat).

So that's what I think we have. probably, if the books are correct, at first a young male. working on the pond to show that he has potential. That he has the makings of a real family man

A few years ago we had a young male in the same pond. He kept on stopping up the drain pipe where the water went under the road rather than having the water go over the road as I'm sure the beaver wanted.

And after a couple weeks, I guess the improvements showed promise (he had built a lodge and cut down a couple trees) there was a couple. He had apparently attracted a wife (beaver, the book says, mate for life). And the couple worked at making the lodge stronger, and had started preparing for winter (if you look down in the water of an active beaver pond there are sticks with the bark still attached stuck into the mud of the bottom of the pond.

That was about the time that our Great Pyrenees realized wild animals had set up housekeeping on land that they were guarding. (this was back before the deer fence and before we limited the area we let our gp's patrolled).

I don't know what happened, but I did see the gp's digging on top of the lodge (it was built close enough to the bank that the dogs could jump to it) and then one day there were no beavers.

they were gone. (I think I have a neighbor farther down the valley who has a thing against beaver on the creek, but... I'm pretty sure they moved out or it was the gp's doing their perceived duty).

That was ten years ago.

So if you come out this weekend, when you cross the creek take a look over into the swamp. do you see any beaver activity? (sticks with the bark chewed off, gnawed down trees, mud and stick dams, a lodge, a beaver swimming around).

Oh, and I forgot, we grow flowers for shareholders that visit the farm. They've started to flower. Not too many and stems that are still short, but if you are coming out, bring a pair of scissors and cut 20 stems. The zinnias and calendula are flowering. The stems won't be long enough for a nice vase for another month, but still, they need cutting and if you don't mind a 4 or 5 inch stem. This is for vegetable shareholders only.