Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor

My wife, God bless her, will take into her care whatever needy creature happens to fall into her space. She came home a few months ago with various tomato plants because she took pity on the local gal selling them at the farmers market.

“They’re heirlooms” she said, as if to vindicate the leggy plants purchased well before they would survive the garden nights.

“What kinds?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Whatever.”

I don’t plant WHATEVER in my garden as a rule, taking a bit more forethought about what occupies space in our limited garden fortress.

But there they grow–a brandywine tomato, and two other unknowns whose names quickly washed off their labels–a sure sign the seller was sorta new at this game. But she was selling plants that needed a good home. And my guess is the wife gave her a few bucks extra “because she was a nice person.” I’ll say no more.

Except: she’s done the same thing with livestock. Somebody at the Wednesday night church service “got a few chickens need a good home.”

Bingo: you guessed it. Sight unseen, we have them over in the quagmire that is the barn-roof-runoff saturated chicken pen. (And therein lies another story.) Herself had no idea as to the age, breed or other qualities of said orphaned birds, and she went up maybe two months back and fetched them home: two look-alike fowl of potential chickenhood, and a much smaller genetically modified chickenoid organism.

The birds are of an age that we might expect the two actual chickens to start laying along about October before they stop laying during the shorter days of November. So we’ll get–what–a dozen eggs, each requiring by then a total of two miles and 10 hours of work a piece. Oy!

As if that were not bad enough, insult has been added to injury.

It was a few days back, sitting here peacefully reading on the front porch around 7 in the morning. What’s that! Sounded like maybe a coyote far off. I cupped my hands behind my ears to hear it better. Strange. Repeated a couple of times a minute. Not a howl exactly. Not musical at all like a bird call. Not the bellow of a cow on a distant hilltop pasture. Just very odd.

Then the next morning heading over on poultry duty, adding another chicken mile to the cost-benefit ledger, I heard the sound again–muffled, not unfamiliar, but I couldn’t quite remember where I’d heard this sound before. It was coming from the henhouse, still at that hour closed for the night before.

It was the pitiful adolescent croak of a young rooster. And with that announcement, our pathetic miles per egg ratio just doubled.

The GMO bird will likely begin growing a third wing soon, an obvious grotesquery of diabolical genetic whimsy that we (or at least I) never would have intentionally gathered into our overindulgent fold for orphan plants and animals. So we have a chimera, a hen, and a he-chicken.

After witnessing the beating our couple of hens suffered at the, er, hand of the rooster we inherited from another neighbor a few years back, I can say with certainty he won’t live here long enough to perfect his crow into anything that says rooster to the world.

Free to a good home. To any home. CockaDoodle won’t do a’tall.

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Officially Summer When Daylilies Bloom

Summer's Here!

It has been a most pleasant June, save for the too-frequent rains–a statement you would never have heard 8 out of 10 of the past Junes, when the gardens most need and least receive the moisture we now have in excess.

Finally, while far from my favorite temperature, the garden plantings think warm nights and almost-hot days are much more favorable for fruiting. So far, only a couple of meals of Sugar-snap peas.

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Summer Morning

FarmFresh: Sugar Snap

It is officially summer. So far, I don’t hate it. Enough rainfall, enough warmth to suit me, coupled with nice cool nights.

And the garden insects have not become pestiferous. Yet. The voles seemingly have enjoyed the gummy bears I’ve grudgingly allowed them to have in their little holes, the slugs know to stay away because an impossibly tall building will come through the garden early morning, late evening with a pointy stick and intere their molluskan carcasses into the soil. Life is cruel.

Or life is good. Or at least good-ish.

Garden Notes Mid June ’13

barnGarden480At last, after two plantings of saved heirloom seeds stillborn in the cold soil, a third generation is birthed and growing. Goose Beans have been the staple of our stable of legumes, Tendercrop or some such bush bean making up the balance.

So the thought that I might fail to raise bean one this year has been plaguing my sense of gardening self-worth. Consequently, the mere emergence of those big fat cotyledons above the soil this morning–now finally warm enough this late spring to support life–has given me inordinate hope for harvest, yet.

Sugar Snap vines tied up against the cattle panels with greenbox-found baling twine, have survived the winds that accompany every-other-day storms, and the flowers now sport 1 inch flat fruits. In another week, if we don’t get hail, we’ll eat the rounded pods until we’re sick of them, and take bowl’s full, and some Annie’s dressing, to pot lucks that flourish this time of year in Floyd.

Mortgage Lifter tomatoes are already showing blight, while the first-time for me Celebrity are stout and clear of tell-tale spots, and hopefully will survive and offer seeds to save for next year. Amish Paste and Romas are coming along, and there are even a few frail yellow flowers showing.

I am back to the Gummy Bear “solution” for dealing with moles and voles, the latter more of a problem this year, and I’ve already lost 4 peppers and a tomato to their indiscriminate subterranean tunneling. They do NOT get the red ones.

I have a few hundred pounds of decomposed donkey poo to distribute in unplanted places, along with the rest of last year’s black compost I am putting around new plantings of zucchini, straight neck squash and cucumbers. I don’t know how much nutrition it provides to the young plants, but the dark compost does set the young greenery  strikingly against the ubiquitous gray-green grass-clipping mulch that is anywhere the soil shows through.

Rains have been almost too regular, but the creeks are running bold and boisterous, especially for this time of year. I am pulling creek water into a 35 gallon plastic can to use for spot watering, which includes the 1:20 personal nitrogenous supplement I’ve written about before.

I’m looking now for praying mantis egg cases to tie onto the fence around the garden perimeter. Seems to me they used to be easier to find, but I’m remembering when, as a teacher, I gave extra credit for certain nature-discoveries, the egg cases being one. And if the student could not be convinced to use them in this manner, I’d gladly carry them home for this. Except the one I forgot about in my office until I opened the door one morning to find a hundred tiny prayers climbing all over my office desk at the community college.

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To Pee or Not to Pee

I am remembering now why the coming of warmer, longer, greener days is so disruptive to what has passed for winter-normal especially-morning cycles of attention and energy.

With the first days in the 70s, one realizes that they are swimming once more against the very currents of planetary shifts and the inexorable urge of things to grow. A mere mortal has little choice but to push the mower, swing the scythe, whirr the string trimmer and hoe the weeds one step ahead of the Green Tsunami. It will overwhelm one who stands slack-jawed against its unrelenting tide.

Yesterday, against all odds, the string trimmer started on the first try, and the grass out the back door that benefits from the dog’s nitrogenous offerings, a foot tall already, is now strewn across the pavers.

Today’s attention turns back to the Garden of Summer Yet to Come, and I think about what it will take to end up with anything to show for all the hard work that lies ahead. What will my tender plants want to eat this year that they didn’t get last year–a not so great tomato year, or beans, or anything but chard.

Yesterday at a local greenhouse, I was encouraged to give a look at MaxiCrop–a seaweed extract that was said to make remarkable impact on the growth of young tomatoes as a foliar feed (sprinkle in a watering can onto the leaves vs root feeding.) The stuff adds another $20 to the ledger of our “free” vegetables.

On the other hand, I had a conversation Sunday with an expert on the matter of feeding plants. She extolled the benefits of urine (at 20:1) as well as a “tea” of manure (I have a nice pile of donkey droppings under black plastic) and grass clippings.

So as Barbara says, it’s N-PEE-oK fertilizer for my future garden. I think I’ll give it a try, along with the pee-bale straw target to hold and keep all that nice nitrogen.

I’ll keep more of it up above the septic field this year. I know Ann is going to be thrilled when I tell her; and I’m pretty sure she’s not going to be any help.

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